BEARDED DEVIL

Monsters, Horror, Gaming

Month: October 2013

Podcast Halloween Episode

I’ve been featured on S.S. Librarianship once again, in Episode 9.  This time I talk about horror and its aesthetics as well as some of my favorite horror films and games.

Outlast – Review

Outlast

The horror gaming world is much abuzz about Outlast right now, a found-footage horror game that’s been compared to Amnesia and its ilk.  I just finished the game myself over a period of about two weeks.  I must admit that a part of me is cathartically relieved the game is over, because it’s an absolutely nerve-fraying experience, exquisitely paced, calibrated to precisely balance unrelenting panic with the potent terror of anticipation, with enough nauseating viscera thrown in for even the most benumbed gorehound to roil at.  It’s not a perfect horror game but it’s damn close.  Although it only has a few real innovations, it plays the standard tropes of the genre better than almost any horror game I’ve played.

Like some other horror games of late, Outlast’s protagonist, Miles, contributes to the atmosphere of terror by wheezing, panting, and hyperventilating at appropriate times.  He’s also fully embodied: his hands, arms, and legs are all visible and interact fully with the world, so when you pick up a battery or open a door you watch him physically perform the actions.  I like this trend towards physicality; not only does it aid immersion, which is of vital importance in a horror game, it gives everything a particularly visceral edge that suits Outlast and games of its ilk very well.  In Outlast specifically, Miles’ embodiment is especially significant: the game is not only about the relationship between bodies and minds, it’s also about chases.  It’s probably impossible to make it through the game without being seen; the game seems to delight in springing enemies on you when you think you’re being clever and stealthy, so almost inevitably, you end up spending a lot of time running away.  Equal parts deranged parkour and murderous hide-and-seek, the chase gameplay is very well handled, with just enough clumsiness to ensure the occasional moment of frenzied fumbling with the controls as you try to dodge around the abominable inmate/thing bearing down on you with god-knows-what clutched in his twisted paw as a makeshift club.  Surprisingly to me the chases themselves aren’t so much terrifying as strangely exhilarating – after the initial spasm of raw panic a kind of primeval flight instinct takes over and you start mapping out routes, figuring out which obstacles to circumvent and which doors to dash through, eyes roving for a place to conceal yourself.

 outlast2

Speaking of Miles, our investigator-journalist protagonist, he’s brilliantly written.  He adds notes in his journal as the game progresses, and for once it actually makes sense for a character to be carrying a notepad and pen.  Most characters in horror games usually seem pretty determined about pressing onwards – Daniel is hell-bent on killing Alexander, Isaac is resolved to destroy the hive mind or purge the necromorph-infested colony or whatever you were supposed to be doing in Dead Space, James Sunderland is intent on finding his wife, Leon Kennedy is steadfastly committed to rescuing the president’s daughter (even if she is annoying as all get out), Oswald Mandus is obsessed with finding his children.  In contrast, Miles became my hero not when he enters the asylum in the name of journalism but when he scribbles in his notebook something along the lines of “Fuck this placeSeriously, fuck it.”  Again, this boosts immersion immensely – because now my desires really are aligned with the protagonist’s, and we identify with him in a way we might not with a more stoic protagonist.  In A Machine for Pigs I found Mandus fascinating in a creepy, grotesque kind of way, but as the game progressed I identified with him less and less, as it became clearer and clearer just how disturbed and deluded he was; by the end of the game I had sort of decided that I wouldn’t be that cut up if old Oswald bit the biscuit.  But Miles reacts essentially as a real person would if they were confronted with the horrors of Mount Massive.  He doesn’t grab a crowbar and an SMG and start gunning his through the place, he runs a lot, hides a lot, and tries to get the hell out as fast as he can.  As the story progresses and he gets drawn ever deeper into Mount Massive his motivations shift and become more complicated, but he is always intent on getting out as fast as possible.

While Outlast has a limited bag of tricks gameplay-wise, it uses them to full effect.  The parkour mechanics of the game are intuitive and easy to handle, and except for one jump that I think was slightly too extreme, the platforming element is never frustrating.  There’s a nice blend of stealth, exploration, item collection, and action (the chases).  What there really aren’t are puzzles: at no point was I stuck on what to do.  The only time I couldn’t figure out where to go, a rampaging enemy chasing me through an overgrown courtyard eventually forced me to stumble upon the way to the next area by making me run around like a chicken with its head cut off till I spotted the right path.  The trailer does a pretty good job of showing off the gameplay without spoiling anything.

 night vision

Outlast features some of the best use of darkness and light since Amnesia: The Dark Descent.  The central conceit of the game is the use of the camcorder Miles comes equipped with, which is used not only to provoke new “notes” by recording events in the game, it comes with a battery-draining night vision mode.  The garish, grainy, blue-lit night-vision makes me think of the climactic scene of The Silence of the Lambs, so strongly I wonder whether it’s a kind of extended allusion – not that other films haven’t used night vision (28 Weeks Later also comes to mind).  The night vision not only adds an anxiety-provoking element as your battery supply slowly dwindles, it allows the game to play a variety of tricks dependent entirely on whether or not you’ve got your light on, some of them quite subtle.  In one memorable and horripilating sequence, for example, a flash of lightning, combined with the night vision and zoom function, illumines an approaching, knife-wielding figure slowly slinking out of the gloom, giving you a simultaneous jolt of fear and a few extra, precious moments to escape – but then a glance behind you with the night vision on reveals a second figure approaching from behind.  The sheer panic this moment caused before I spotted the solution was pretty impressive.  This is a game that manipulates its players in very deliberate ways, and yet many of its best scenes aren’t scripted events but organically derived moments that emerge spontaneously through play.  Mount Massive is labyrinthine enough to allow for multiple routes and hiding spots.  In other games, the presence of a locker or wardrobe to hide in might tip the game’s hand that an encounter with something awful was imminent, but not in Outlast: while there are a few predictable moments, the structure of the environment, your character’s speed, and what seems like pretty decent AI on the inmates ensures that Outlast rarely gives the game away.  The game excels in making its environment varied and interesting, despite taking place entirely in and around single building.  I was reminded at points of the original Half-Life: the game manages to switch up the terrain enough to keep things from getting bland (as the endless corridors of Dead Space or the interminable offices of F.E.A.R. get stale), while still retaining a feeling of unity and coherence.  At different points you’ll find yourself in claustrophobic sewer tunnels, cavernous cisterns, gore-spattered infirmaries, tenebrous wards, terrifyingly open courtyards, and corridors so derelict the floorboards sometimes disintegrate beneath your feet.

 cells

While Outlast deals in jump-scares as much as slow-burning dread, it elevates them to a fine art by playing mental games with the player.  In one early sequence, for example, you pass an emaciated inmate in a wheelchair, sitting still and wheezing to himself beneath a flickering overhead light – he’s grotesque and unnerving but not especially frightening.  After working up the courage to approach this ghoulish but infirm figure you quickly realize he’s harmless: he doesn’t talk or try to attack you, he just sits in his chair and breathes hoarsely to himself, inspiring more pity than fear.  In an adjacent room you find an object you need to get to the next area and you’re forced to retrace your steps.  Knowing that horror games have a habit of throwing enemies at you after retrieving such items, I was moving very quickly through the areas I’d previously visited while keeping an eye out for trouble, expecting something to burst through a previously locked door.  As I ran down the reasonably well-lit corridor with the wheelchair-bound inmate I started to feel relieved – the hallway looked clear, and I’d written off the inmate as “safe,” really not much more than a bit of set-dressing, an atmospheric fixture.  When he lurched out of his wheelchair and attacked me, I was genuinely startled and horrified; moments later, as he picked himself up off the floor after Miles pushed him off, I was running at full-speed away from him, the nerve-fraying jolt of the jump-scare immediately giving way to fear of being caught.  This is nothing short of brilliant: the scare hides in plain sight, luring you into a false sense of security and then punishing you for letting your guard down.  After escaping, my heartbeat receding in sync with Miles’ panting, the full implications of the sequence hit me, as I realized that nothing in Mount Massive could be considered “safe.”  By introducing an expectation and then subverting it, Outlast had further undermined any sense of security I had deluded myself into feeling.  This was not an isolated incident, either: Outlast delights in these kind of head-games.  For instance, the game provides ample spaces to hide – lockers and beds being the most common.  Frequently, you’ll watch through a locker grill as an enemy searches the locker beside yours, while leaving your own locker unopened.  After a few repetitions of this routine, I thought I’d “figured out” the stealth aspect of the game – if you were in a locker, and the enemy didn’t see you enter it, you were safe.  How wrong I was: enemies can indeed guess which locker you’re in correctly.  Again, the game sets up assumptions only to undermine them.

 Trager

As for the game’s “monsters” (the inmates, or Variants), they’re wonderfully designed: mangled, mutilated, surgically scarred, and riddled with carcinogenic growths, the sudden appearance of one, accompanied by a trill of music, is sublimely horrific.  You re-encounter a number of particular Variants over the course of the game and read about them in documents as well, and so Mount Massive accrues a kind of mythology as you move through it.  My personal favourite is the demented Doctor Trager, who runs the infirmary and is responsible for one of the most shocking and harrowing scenes in the game, although the calm, strangely soft-spoken Brothers are also wonderfully creepy.  Much of the game is spent evading the behemothic Chris Walker, a particularly menacing Variant, and while I enjoyed many of the sequences featuring Chris, I thought that by the end he’d been a bit overused: over the course of the game he becomes the designers’ “go-to” enemy, unless they opt for a generic, nameless inmate or three.  Even one or two more named, unique enemies would have made the game stronger overall.  Only one enemy’s design actually disappointed me significantly, though – that of the Walrider, an enigmatic, incorporeal spectre central to Outlast’s overarching plot.  The Variants are uniformly grotesque and unnerving: everything about them makes you want to get away.  They’re unclean, contaminated, diseased; the obscenities they shout, the way they goad you and tease you and lust for you, is really appalling in the best possible way.  In contrast the Walrider is mute, faceless, wispy, and not especially scary.  The only times it really threatens you take place in rather well-lit areas, and whenever I was running from the Walrider I didn’t feel the same frenzied sense of total panic I felt when fleeing from Doctor Trager with his rusty surgical instruments or the hulking, inexorable Chris.  There’s just no sense of revulsion with the Walrider, no feeling of disgust.  I think they were going for a kind of otherworldly Lovecraftian force with the Walrider, but it falls rather short of the mark; frankly it reminds me a bit of the black wraiths that feature towards the end of F.E.A.R., which were more annoying than terrifying.  Though the end of the game in general is a bit anticlimactic given what came before, the Walrider really exacerbates the problems with the final area.  Overall, I think the game’s biggest missed opportunity was the fact it doesn’t include any female characters: though you venture into the Female Ward at one point, there are no female characters in the entire game (at least none that I saw).  The designers can’t really have been worried about encouraging violence against women, because you’re unarmed throughout, and I think a properly designed female Variant could have been perfect.

poor exec

Some reviewers have criticized the game for being clichéd, or for offering a stereotypical and inaccurate depiction of mental illness (Adam Smith’s review on Rock Paper Shotgun is particularly scathing in this regard).  While the story of Outlast is nothing really out of the ordinary – it’s a barebones, boilerplate horror plot about Nazi science, corrupt corporations, dreams, hypnotherapy, spirits, some weird machines and some weirder mathematical formulae – it doesn’t really have to be, and I think the “clichéd” criticism is a bit hard to swallow.  Yes, abandoned and/or overrun mental institutions aren’t exactly original, but Outlast does the “evil asylum” thing about as well as possible (on the same level as Thief: Deadly Shadows’ Shalebridge Cradle).  Smith argues that:

The fact that the place purports to be some kind of madhouse probably won’t matter very much to what little narrative there might be. It’s wallpaper to act as a backdrop for bludgeoning and butchery. It could as easily be a carnival full of insane clowns or an abandoned hotel full of insane bellboys, or an insurance office full of insane filing clerks.

Ironically, this is exactly right, in a sense.  The game could have been set in an evil carnival or whatever – so long as it used the tropes at its disposal right, it would still have been an intense horror experience.  Outlast is not trying to make a coherent statement about the way we relate to the mentally ill or about real mental illness.  It’s not striving for profundity, it’s striving for affect.  In this sense Outlast is a perfect representation of Poe’s theory of “unity of effect.”  In “The Philosophy of Composition” (1846), Poe claimed that when he sits down to write he first ponders “Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?”  Then, “Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect,” he sets out to deduce the “combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid [him] in the construction of the effect.”  Elsewhere, especially in “The Poetic Principle” (1850), Poe denounces didacticism as a “heresy” – he’s not interested in art that tells a great truth or teaches something, he’s interested in “an elevating excitement of the Soul.”  Outlast isn’t interested in teaching us something about the nature of madness or the corruption of our mental institutions.  It’s interested in scaring the shit out of us, and it does so with gusto.  Smith’s review also charges the game with Othering the mentally ill in a damaging way, but again, I don’t think this is quite fair.  The game goes out of its way to stress that the inmates aren’t mundanely “mad,” they’ve been abused and tormented, exposed to eldritch forces and fantastic therapies.  Not all of the inmates in Mount Massive are violent either: many of them are inert, catatonic, passive, self-destructive, or simply benign.  A few are even mildly helpful.  Outlast may not challenge any stereotypes about mental illness, but it’s not trying to.  It’s not aiming for sophistication, it just wants to take a cheese grater to your nerves, and it does not hold back in that regard.

 Dennis

I heartily recommend Outlast to those who have a high tolerance for or enjoyment of properly scary horror games.  If you’re looking for a brilliant story that challenges your understanding of the world or society, or a shoot-em-up faux-horror game, you’ll probably be disappointed.  If, on the other hand, you’ve enjoyed games like Amnesia, Penumbra, Silent Hill, Thief, and Condemned, you’ll find Outlast horribly delightful.  I must be honest that between Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs and Outlast, the latter is my favourite by a fair margin (although The Dark Descent would probably still be ahead a bit in my personal ranking).  It’s a suspenseful splatterpunk masterpiece.

The Savour of Madness: Attic and Basement

 Faust 4

Attic

Attic Map

There’s not much of value in these old storerooms, but they do provide a stealthy means of navigating the third level of the asylum.

34 – Storeroom

Dusty old crates and trunks swathed in cobwebs fill this mouldering attic storeroom.

If the characters decide to investigate the crates and trunks, roll on the following table to determine their contents:

Roll 1d20 Crate Contents
1 Yellow mould
2 Muzzles
3 Fetters and shackles
4 Bedclothes
5 Parchment, somewhat mouldy
6 Orderlies’ uniforms
7 Spare rug
8 Bandages
9 Straitjackets, musty but useable
10 Spare parts for the rotary chair
11 Rusty carpentry tools and nails
12 Rusty surgical tools
13 Rusty kitchen implements
14 Lamp oil (6 jars)   and a hooded lantern
15 Healer’s kit
16 30 candles
17 50 ft. of coiled hemp rope
18 Rolled painting worth 25 gp
19 12 silver candlesticks worth 10 gp each
20 Floor plans of the asylum (basement only)

35 – Study Storeroom

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This dim attic storeroom has a large trapdoor in one corner.  The storeroom is mostly empty save for an old chest gathering dust.

The chest is locked (Disable Device DC 30 or use the Heart key).  Inside are a number of phials containing drugs of various sorts: 6 doses of Æther, 6 doses of Opium, and 6 phials of Oil of Restfulness.

36 – Hole in the Roof

A hole in the roof lets water into this old storeroom.  Years of rot have caused a partial collapse of the ceiling below – it’s a short drop down into what looks like the mould-infested remnants of the asylum’s library.

1d6 non-lethal damage unless a DC 15 Acrobatics check is made to jump down.

37 – Tower Garret

Three small dormer windows look out over the asylum grounds in this cramped garret.

The Basement

Basement Map

Soundtrack

38 – Cellar

cellar

Large barrels and kegs fill this cellar, and there’s a small wine-rack with some dusty bottles in it as well.

There are 20 bottles of fine wine here (10 gp each), and a lot of lower-quality wine.

39 – Storage

This large chamber holds supplies for the asylum above: linens, bedclothes, tools, machine parts, curtains, cutlery, spare pots and pans, and other miscellaneous objects.

There’s little of actual value here, though if the players need improvised weapons for whatever reason, some spare kitchen knives could be used as daggers.

40 – Wardrobe

This extensive storage chamber contains hundreds of suits of clothes, ranging from the white straitjackets of inmates to the plain uniforms of the orderlies to the fine coats, vests, wigs, and other garments of the alienists.  All are neatly folded on shelves or hung on pegs or hooks.

This room is perfect for characters to turn the tables on those above and disguise themselves.  In addition to 50 straitjackets and 25 orderly uniforms there are 20 doctor’s outfits and 12 courtier’s outfits here.

41 – Makeup

This small room includes a table set before a large mirror, with several smaller mirrors on its surface.  An array of cosmetics are arrayed on the desk, along with brushes and tools for applying them.  A small cabinet along one wall is filled with a variety of perfumes and colognes.

The makeup is the equivalent of a masterwork disguise kit.  The perfumes are worth 50 gp apiece (there are 30 bottles in total).  They are very delicate and bulky, however.  The Intellect Devourers use this room to disguise their rotting flesh when required.

42 – Larder

This room is locked (Disable Device DC 30, Strength DC 25 to force, or used the Hand Key).

This refrigerated room is obviously a larder.  Several shelves are devoted to mundane foodstuffs, but other shelves contain more gruesome victuals: severed limbs, human organs, and dozens of brains.  All are well-preserved; some are picked in jars, and large haunches of meat of uncertain origin dangle from meathooks on the ceiling.

Sanity check (0/1d3) for the mangled body-parts and brains.  The brains are an “emergency store” for the Intellect Devourer – they prefer to consume the brains of still-living or recently deceased hosts, but will feed on refrigerated brains if necessary.  The body parts are, of course, for the Grimlocks.

43 – The “Marionette” Room

This room is very cold – it must be refrigerated somehow, rime coating every visible surface.  Meathooks line the ceiling, dozens and dozens of them, every one of them holding up a naked human corpse.  A wide variety of ages and body types are evident, and there are slightly more male corpses than female ones.  Some of the bodies have been severely mutilated: some are missing fingers, limbs, eyes, or other features, while others sport grotesque grafts and augmentations harvested from other human corpses or from animals.  One corpse dangling near the entrance sports two heads – one male, one female – and a stitched body exhibiting characteristics of both.  Another has had its mouth replaced with the beak of a large bird and its arms replaced with massive wings.

Sanity check (1/1d4+1).  This is the “marionette” room: a chamber used by the Intellect Devourers to store hosts when not in use.

44 – Alchemical Laboratory

lab

Counters covered in alchemical apparatus dominate this laboratory, whose walls are lined with shelves stocked a variety of reagents – herbs, preserved organs, bottled chemicals, tinctures, oils, and essences, live insects, dried body parts, and similar components.  Beakers, crucibles, burners, boilers, mortars and pestles, and other equipment cover the counter-tops, and gaps between shelves are papered with alchemical charts.

Alchemist’s laboratory; no finished potions here.  If the alarm hasn’t been sounded there is a high probability of encountering an Alienist here.

45 – Potion Storage

This room is locked (Disable Device DC 30 or open using the Brain Key).  Anyone attempting to open the door who isn’t an Intellect Devourer activates a Symbol of Insanity placed upon it (Perception DC 33 to notice, Disable Device DC 33 to disable, Dispel DC 19).   In addition to a Confusion effect such a Symbol drains 2d6 Sanity points.

Racks of glass syringes line the walls of this chamber – they’re labelled using alchemical symbols.  Some of the syringes are empty, but many contain coloured liquids.

There are a lot of potions here: 30 Potions of Disguise Self (Human), 5 Potions of Cure Moderate Wounds, 5 Potions of Delay Poison, 5 Potions of Lesser Restoration, 5 Flasks of Oil of Restfulness, 3 Potions of Neutralize Poison, 3 Potions of Remove Paralysis. 3 Potions of Remove Diseases, 3 Syringes of Mindfire Serum

46 – Embalming Chamber

This chamber smells of formaldehyde and other preservatives.  Jars of embalming oil sit on shelves around the periphery, while at the center lies a partially embalmed body sprawled on a steel table, its organs carefully piled on a tray nearby, its torso split open.  Various tools, pumps, blades, and other instruments are arrayed on a worktable along one side of the chamber.

There are 10 large jars of (flammable) embalming fluid here.

47 – Delacroix’s Study

This room is locked (Disable Device DC 30, Strength DC 25 to force, or used the Hand Key).

This old storage room has been converted into a small study, with an antique wooden desk strewn with papers, some of them scrawled with occult symbols and formulae, others with anatomical illustrations, and others still with notes.  In one corner stands a naked human corpse, stuffed and mounted on a wooden base, its face frozen in an expression of terror.

Pages of Delacroix’s journal can be found here:

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In addition to Delacroix’s journal the following scrolls can be found in this room: 1 Scroll of Insanity, 1 Scroll of Phantasmal Killer, 1 Scroll of Feeblemind, 2 Scrolls of Confusion, 2 Scrolls of Touch of Idiocy, 3 Scrolls of Fear, 3 Scrolls of Touch of Madness, 4 Scrolls of Lesser Confusion, 6 Scrolls of Cause Fear

There is a good chance Delacroix is here, or else in the Grafting Laboratory.

48 – Grafting Laboratory

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Three long, steel slabs dominate this room.  Lain upon them are inmates that have been hideously mutilated, surgically altered in uncanny and disturbing ways.  One has been given a dog’s snout, grafted incongruously to the lower half of his face, and his hands and feet have been replaced with hairy, canine paws; a second bears suckered tentacles in place of forearms and a gaping lamprey maw on his stomach.  The third victim has had her lower body replaced with some kind of overgrown grub-like creature.  At first you take them for dead, but then you see that they are breathing, barely – they’re likely sedated somehow.  Cabinets with an array of bottled chemicals line the walls, and trays of surgical instruments – scalpels, bonesaws, needles, lancets, calipers, hand drills, and more – are affixed to the slabs.

The sight of the grafted bodies requires a Sanity check (1/1d4+1).

The chemicals are mostly sedatives similar to Oil of Restfulness.  There are 12 jars of the stuff, along with 4 Potions of Cure Serious Wounds (each restores 3d8+5 hp).

If awakened, the inmates become very distressed and probably violent, refusing to believe that the characters aren’t Intellect Devourers in disguise.  The Alienists have grafted them for two reasons: firstly for their own depraved amusement, and secondly to further traumatize the minds of their victims, cultivating the delicious madness they long for.

A thorough search of the tools turns up a Wand of Sculpt Corpse with 13 charges remaining, made from a human ulna.

Delacroix/Quasiriant is often in this room with another Alienist or two, working on the inmates.

49 – Examination Room A

Studies_of_the_Arm_showing_the_Movements_made_by_the_Bicepsskull2

This room is locked (Disable Device DC 30 or open using the Eye Key). 

A large cage occupies the recessed centre of this round room.  Within, gibbering and raving in the throes of lunacy, are two inmates who have been surgically grafted together, their legs removed and their torsos fused with stitches and eldritch puissance.  The miserable pair are forced to walk on their hands, crab-like, their heads forever facing upwards, gibbering incoherently.  Curved benches are arrayed around the room.

The Dyad, as the pair are called, provoke a Sanity check (1/1d4+1).  The door to the cage is locked (Disable Device DC 30 – can be opened with the Hand Key).  The Dyad is/are basically incapable of fighting in any meaningful way.  However, if the alarm hasn’t been sounded there is a high likelihood that two of the Alienists are here, observing their creation.

50Examination Room B

drawing-of-the-comparative-anatomy-of-the-legs-of-a-man-and-a-dog.jpg!BlogLEONARDO da Vinci-698837

This room is locked (Disable Device DC 30 or open using the Eye Key). 

A brass cage sits in the middle of this round viewing chamber.  A solitary figure writhes in the cage; at first you take him for an inmate struggling in a straitjacket, but then you realize the straitjacket is made from flesh stretched over the man’s limbs.  He’s been muzzled, again with grafted flesh.

The figure provokes a Sanity check (0/1d3).  The door to the cage is locked (Disable Device DC 30 – can be opened with the Hand Key).

51 – Examination Room C

bust-of-a-man-in-profile-with-measurements-and-notes.jpg!Blogview-of-a-skull-1

This room is locked (Disable Device DC 30 or open using the Eye Key). 

In the middle of a brass cage at the recessed center of this round viewing chamber stalks a figure that has been afflicted by twisted magic.  Though obviously originally human, the creature is metamorphosing into something else, tentacles sprouting from its limbs, flesh mottling and turning a sickly greenish-purple.  The inmate’s mouth has been replaced by a fanged lamprey maw that mewls and salivates, dribbling bilious spittle.

The figure provokes a Sanity check (0/1d3). 

This inmate is becoming a Fleshwarped creature.  If released from its cage (Disable Device DC 30 – can be opened with the Hand Key) it goes berserk and attacks the nearest Intellect Devourer or orderly; otherwise it simply attacks the characters.  Its base statistics are those of a regular inmate but it has a Strength of 16, Intelligence 9, Charisma 6, and a Tentacle attack (+6, 1d6+3).

52 – Examination Room D

Fig-1-5-APPARATUS-USED-IN-VIVISECTION

This room is locked (Disable Device DC 30 or open using the Eye Key). 

A large glass box dominates this room.  Within writhes a disgusting conglomeration of tentacles, eyes, hooves, talons, and gnashing teeth – an amorphous abomination that hurls itself repeatedly against the inside of the glass, tendrils flickering, claws scratching.  Benches are arrayed around the room where observers could sit and examine the thing.

The figure provokes a Sanity check (1/1d4+1). 

The creature is a Chaos Beast, a former inmate exposed to too many mutagenic compounds.  If released from its cage (Disable Device DC 30 – can be opened with the Hand Key) it attacks the nearest creature.

53 – Implantation Chamber

view-of-a-skull

This dingy, stone chamber is dominated by a single chair, a leathery monstrosity with straps and other restraints that sits in the middle of the room in the glare of a lamp dangling from the ceiling on a chain.   A selection of bloody tools are evident on a nearby trolley – forceps, hammers, clamps, hand vises, retractors, and the like.  Strapped into the chair is a man wearing inmates’ garb, obviously sedated.  The man’s jaw has been dislocated and his lips and cheeks forcibly pulled back with metal instruments.  Nearby stands a large, glass tank on rollers, containing a sallow alchemical solution.  Swimming within the tank are four strange creatures resembling undersized human brains equipped with writhing tendrils and small, squirming limbs.

The sight of the inmate requires a Sanity check (0/1d3).  If awakened he reacts with panic and struggles, trying to flee from the room as swiftly as possible.

Four Intellect Devourer larvae swim in the tank.  This chair is used when one of the Alienists needs to switch bodies, or when a young Intellect Devourer is to be implanted for the first time.

54 – Tunnels Entrance

This square storage room reeks of rotten meat and animalistic musk.  A hole in the wall gapes like an open wound, leading into a roughly-dug tunnel winding down into darkness.  You can hear dripping from within, and the vague splash of something moving in water.

55 – Symbiont Chamber

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Half a dozen glass jars are arrayed on counters along the edges of this room, canisters brimming with bilious liquid.  Suspended the jars are various creatures, each seemingly more alien and disturbing than the last.

There is a high chance of finding an Intellect Devourer in an Alienist host in this room if the alarm hasn’t been raised, carefully injecting one of the Symbionts with a syringe containing an alchemical mutagen.

A description of each Symbiont and its abilities follows:

Jar 1: Suspended in this jar is a grotesque, fleshy thing that looks like a pair of sallow-skinned, bony hands joined at the wrists, long digits spread as if ready to clamp down upon something.  Two small, fanged maws are visible on the palms of the creature.

When placed around someone’s neck, the Necklace clamps down around them, fingers interlacing tightly – it will not choke the person to death, but it does constrict their neck somewhat, making their face slightly paler than normal.  Meanwhile, the small mouths feed on the host’s blood, tongue-like tendrils flickering from the mouths into the host’s neck.  The Necklace can be used to cast the spell Spectral Hand at will.  The Necklace occupies a magic item slot normally used for an amulet or broach.  It has an Ego of 6 and is Chaotic Evil in Alignment.  It has a speed of 1 ft.

Jar 2: Floating in this jar is a segmented, worm-like thing that somewhat resembles a disembodied human tongue, pinkish-yellow in hue.  At its base are a number of cruel organic barbs, while at its tip there’s a small, worm-like mouth.  As you watch the tongue-thing spasms and twitches, elongating itself considerably.

The Tongue is placed in someone’s mouth, it uses its barbed hooks to sever the host’s tongue (1d4 Con damage) and implant itself in its place.  The Tongue endows its host with a Bite attack with a reach of 10 ft (1d6 damage plus 1d4 acid).  It gives its user the ability to speak and understand Aklo.  It has an Ego of 4 and is Chaotic Evil in Alignment.  It has a speed of 1 ft.

Jar 3: A vaguely insectoid creature somewhat resembling a scarab beetle or cockroach swims about in the fluid of this jar, chelicerae wriggling.  The creature has a skull-shaped design on its carapace.

The Roach attaches to its host by burrowing beneath their flesh, dealing 1d6 damage upon attachment.  It feeds on the host’s blood.  The Roach functions similarly to a Scarab of Protection, endowing its host with Spell Resistance 20 and absorbing up to 12 energy-draining attacks, death effects, or negative energy effects before dying (upon perishing it erupts out of its host’s flesh, dealing another 1d6 damage).  The Roach has an Ego of 6 and is Chaotic Evil in Alignment.  It has a speed of 20 ft.

Jar 4: Bobbing in this jar is another hand-like organism, this one with seven extremely long, many-jointed fingers with membranous webbing between them and some kind of suckered tendril at its wrist.  The fingertips of the hand-thing are likewise equipped with suckers.

The Caul adheres itself to the back of a person’s head using its suckers, which is uses to feed.  It gives its user +2 Intelligence and Telepathy 100 ft. (though it does not grant the ability to Detect Thoughts).  The Caul occupies a magic item slot normally used for a cap or helm.  It has an Ego of 10 and is Chaotic Evil in Alignment.  It has a speed of 1 ft.

Jar 5: A leech-like creatures crawls along the inside of its jar, bloated and sickly-looking.  The disgusting creature has a hideous triangular mouth.

The Leech attaches itself to a host simply by adhering to a patch of bare skin.  It secretes healing enzymes that facilitate healing.  It functions exactly like Bandages of Healing but cannot be destroyed.  However, it drains 1d3 points of Con per day, not just 1.  The Leech has an Ego of 2 and is True Neutral in Alignment.  It has a speed of 10 ft.

Jar 6: The thing in this jar looks like nothing more than a fleshy corset, but then the thing twitches, and you realize it is some kind of ray-like creature with two enveloping fins or wings that can join together, interlocking.  Bony joints like struts or ribs give the thing a rigid shape.  The inside surface of the creature is lined with tiny hooked barbs like hairs.

The Bodice attaches to its host by closing itself around their torso and then digging in with its barbs.  When worn, the Bodice enhances the Charisma of its host by +4 but fills its host with lust.  If its host refuses to seek out amorous partners, the Bodice attempts to assert control of its host to fulfill its agenda, as it feeds off emotions as well as blood.  The Bodice occupies a magic item slot normally used for a wrap, robe, or vestment.  It has an Ego of 10 and is Chaotic Evil in Alignment.  It cannot move without a host.

Symbionts feed on their hosts’ blood, draining 1 point of Constitution per day – though since characters generally heal 1 Con per day, this is not severely debilitating; if a symbiont is displeased with its host, or if the host attempts to remove it, it can overfeed (1d4 Con damage once per day).  The Symbionts detailed above cannot attack on their own.  They can be attacked independently of their hosts, and have AC 20 and 10 hp, but gain the Dexterity bonuses of their hosts; attacking a symbiont provokes an attack of opportunity from the host.  Damage to a host never harms a symbiont.  In the event a symbiont is in conflict with its host it may attempt to exert control – a Will save with a DC equal to the Ego of the symbiont is required for the host to remain in control, otherwise the symbiont gains control of its host for 1 day.  While a symbiont can choose to voluntarily detach itself, removing it requires a Will save of the type described above.

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Last but not least comes the tunnels.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs – Review

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Having finished A Machine for Pigs I can now give it a more thorough review.  It’s certainly a worthy successor to The Dark Descent in most respects, and surpasses it in some.  There will be a few mild spoilers below, so read at your own risk.

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As with its predecessor, A Machine for Pigs is brilliantly atmospheric, using a combination of sounds, shadows, music, and text to great effect.  The prose in the game – of which there is a great deal – is magnificently written: gruesome, rambling, poetic, and thematically profound, replete with motifs of animality, excretion, mechanization, sacrifice, spoiled innocence, and contamination.  The levels are beautifully designed, a disturbing series of pens, abattoirs, seeping sewer tunnels, conveyer belts, generators, and churning gears.  The industrial bowels of the Factory juxtapose cramped, claustrophobic tunnels with spaces of cavernous enormity crossed by rusty, zigzagging catwalks, alternating between submarine-like closeness and dizzying vastness.  The dust and cobwebs of Brennenburg have been replaced with oil and excrement, the crumbling stone with hissing pipes and buzzing electric dynamos.  The gameplay in A Machine for Pigs is stripped down to the point of simplicity, but what it does give us is genius.  The electric lantern replacing the oil lamp of The Dark Descent has an interesting feature: it flickers rapidly whenever a monster is near (other electric lights behave the same way).  Once I realized why the lantern was periodically flickering, I became conditioned to react to it in a certain way: whenever I caught it flickering I’d immediately turn it off, crouch down, and seek a hiding spot.  The lantern not only creates a unique and original gameplay element, it has the added side-effect of reducing the player to the same level as an animal responding to a Pavlovian stimulus.  By the game’s end, every time I saw the lantern flicker I would experience a set of physical and mental reactions – the game had literally rewired my brain to its own ends, making me its experimental subject, its lab animal, setting up obvious resonances with the porcine monstrosities that haunt the Factory’s tenebrous corridors.

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As a protagonist, Oswald Mandus is a disturbing and fairly original character.  Though I wish A Machine for Pigs had kept up the habit of reading journal entries in voiceover, which I liked in the first game, the phonographs scattered around the Factory along with the telephone conversations and flashbacks throughout the game give us enough of Oswald’ voice to get a proper feel for him.  His motivations are more complex and unsettling than Daniel’s, and while the protagonist of The Dark Descent always felt like an outsider, an intruder exploring an alien environment, Oswald’s Machine is an uncanny space, familiar and yet unfamiliar – both because Oswald built the Machine and because the environment is riddled with clues that he’s been through the labyrinth very recently and is now retracing his footsteps.  The character’s intense mysophobia makes me feel like there was a missed opportunity for some kind of “contamination mechanic” to complement the first game’s sanity mechanic.  Steam-shower decontamination rooms punctuate the fetid, mechanical entrails of the Factory, but without any reason to enter them beyond getting to the next area they’re just another set of switches to fiddle with, and by the third or fourth time we enter and exit one they’re rather old hat.  But if there’d been a real gameplay-based reason to use them – say, Oswald freaking out if he became too contaminated, maybe coughing and spluttering and so alerting potential enemies to his whereabouts, or even physically deteriorating after being exposed to Compound X, the quasi-alchemical serum crucial to Oswald’s creation – the anxiety around delving into canals awash with excrement or tunnels swirling with mephitic vapours would have been much enhanced, and the decontamination rooms would have provided a sense of relief.  Even without such a mechanic, however, we still get a strong sense of Oswald’s distaste for the unclean, his complicated loathing and pity for a world he considers utterly disgusting, a desacralized reality whose existential horror drives Oswald to build his abominable edifice.  At first I assumed the Machine must have been created as a means of extracting profit, the ultimate embodiment of Victorian capitalism and imperialism, but its purpose turns out to be far more deranged, and Oswald’s complex motivations, obsessions, and neuroses are tied into and physicalized by the Machine itself.

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The monsters are very well-designed, and suitably grotesque.  Interestingly, by the end of the game they elicit as much pity as they do fear or hatred.  The “Manpigs” embody a whole host of contradictions: they are brutal and violent yet also strangely innocent, even child-like.  The game invites us to read the pigs as degraded proletarians but also identifies them with Mandus’ children, his creations; they are, ultimately, his victims.  They symbolically represent an array of human lusts and appetites, the animal within us – our tendencies to sloth and gluttony, our bestial urges.  At the same time the game encourages us to feel responsible for them: they horrify not only because they’re stitched up, misshapen beast-people but because Mandus made them that way.  In keeping with the transition from the sublime, quasi-religious terror of The Dark Descent to the revulsion and disgust common in the urban Gothic, the Manpigs are more scientific than mystical.  The true horror in A Machine for Pigs is derived not from the monsters but from their creator, and from the inexorable encroachment of modernity itself.  The reduction of humans to meat and of the world into a machine “fit only for the slaughtering of pigs” conjures images of Auschwitz and the trenches of the Somme, connections which the game eventually makes explicit.  The Manpigs are thus perfect examples of the urban Gothic’s strategy of monster-making, allegorizing a host of social ills while simultaneously problematizing categories (human/animal, innocent/evil, natural/artificial, organic/machine), disturbing our assumptions and holding up a fractured mirror for us to gaze upon.  Rather unusually for a game so interested in bodies and body-horror, the monsters here aren’t especially sexual in any way; perhaps the developers felt that Justine, with its monstrously sexualized Suitors (and the vaguely venereal wounds of the Gatherers in The Dark Descent) had covered that ground sufficiently.

Capture

The game is not without its blemishes.  While its atmosphere is superb, it pulls its punches a bit too often – the monsters aren’t common enough to be as oppressive as they could be, and sometimes their deployment is a bit sloppy.  The game could also show a bit more violence; at one point the Manpigs rampage through London’s streets, but we don’t see enough evidence of their bestial destruction to make it sting (in general, the London-streets levels are amongst the weakest in the game).  The lack of an inventory has its upsides, but it limits the creators’ ability to craft compelling puzzles, and they don’t manage to compensate: the “puzzles” are incredibly easy, easier even than most of the original Amnesia’s.  I feel this is a direct result of the Chinese Room’s design style; there’s just not much to do besides explore the game’s admittedly gorgeous spaces, occasionally dodging a monster, flicking a switch, or installing a new battery.  As much the tinderbox-collection and lamp-oil rationing in The Dark Descent was a mixed bag, it gave you something to look for as you explored Brennenburg.  A Machine for Pigs could have provided other reasons to explore every corner of every level, like difficult puzzles that require moving back and forth between areas (some timed puzzles would have been welcome).  In the same vein, the game is far too linear, which is disappointing considering how open and sprawling Dear Esther is.  In The Dark Descent the castle had hubs, central spaces from which other levels branched: the Entrance Hall, the Back Hall, the Cistern Entrance, and the Nave.  You made choices about which area to go through, and sometimes had to return to areas you’d previously explored, occasionally facing new threats along the way, like when the Shadow infests the Nave with its oozing horror, collapsing whole corridors and snuffing all the lights.  In contrast, A Machine for Pigs is fairly linear.  The Mansion at the beginning is nicely sprawling, and the Factory Tunnels have multiple choices, but for most of the game your movements are very limited.  Towards the end you are literally on a conveyer belt, which has nice thematic connotations but does bring home how straightforward the game ultimately is.

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The two Amnesia games can teach us a great deal about game design, I think, particularly when it comes to horror.  First and foremost, they demonstrate the vital importance of atmosphere.  Monsters are scary in large part because of the contexts into which they are placed.  Unlike, say, Dead Space, where the necromorphs show up almost immediately and never go away, both Amnesia games know the importance of revealing things very gradually: horror in both games is a kind of strip-tease, and the agonizing build-up to the full reveal is absolutely central to the total effect.  Both games also illustrate the value of empty space.  Empty rooms, corridors, and other areas, when presented atmospherically, are more than padding: they pace an experience and make the player(s) wonder about whether something will be found behind the next door or round the next corner.  If a dungeon is stocked to the brim with monsters, there’s really not much opportunity for suspense.  A Machine for Pigs also demonstrates the utility of repetition to ingrain certain behavioural patterns into players: while care must be taken for encounters not to become stale, the repetition of certain signs and images, like the flickering of the electric lantern, can be used to evoke powerful reactions.  Such motifs not only provide a through-line to an adventure, they can be used to elicit dread and anticipation.  Say, for example, a particular monster exudes a signature stench, and great emphasis is placed on the particular quality of its odour; then, whenever that odour is present, the players will tense up in anticipation.  Finally, both games can be seen as templates for the deployment of Gothic tropes in a gaming context, a series of stock images and situations to be drawn on and borrowed from.

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Up next on my list to play: Outlast.  Having just written a scenario set in an asylum I’m curious to see a different approach.

The Savour of Madness: Disused Ward and Guest Ward

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Floor 3

Asylum Map, Floor 3

29 – Alienists’ Quarters

These tidy quarters are well-furnished, with a large bed, a writing desk by a window, a deer-skin rug, and a handsome chest of drawers. Paintings, mostly depicting rustic tableaux or hunting scenes, provide decoration.  There’s also a large chest at the foot of the bed.  Outside, rain patters against the windows.

Apart from a spare doctor’s and courtier’s outfit (in the chest of drawers), the Alienists keep a few personal effects in their chests, which are locked (Disable Device DC 25 to open or use the Brain Key).  Roll 1d3 times to see what each contains:

Roll 1d20 Result
1 2d100 gold pieces.
2 A fine gold pocket watch (250 gp)
3 Book on human anatomy (10 gp)
4 Scroll of Feeblemind
5 Book on mental illness (10 gp)
6 Spare Hand Key
7 Scroll of Lesser Confusion
8 Masterwork dagger
9 Scroll of Rage
10 1d3 putrescent human brains
11 Putrescent human brain, partially eaten
12 Spare Brain Key
13 Scroll of Touch of Madness
14 Daguerreotype camera and 1d100 photographs of inmates in various states of distress, some of them hideously mutilated or grafted
15 Masterwork wheellock pistol and 10 bullets with gunpowder
16 Spare Eye Key
17 Scroll of Confusion
18 Wand of Fear (25 charges remaining) made from a human radius
19 Spare Heart Key
20 Floor plan of the asylum (above-ground only)

The Guest’s Ward

Soundtrack

The corridor has a trapdoor leading to the attic near the end of the hall.  The trapdoor locked (Disable Device DC 25 to pick, DC 20 to, noisily, force, or open with the Eye Key).

30 – Guest Room

This small room was obviously once a cell, judging from the bars on the windows and the bare brick walls.  A small bed, a chest of drawers, a chamber pot, and a stool are the only furnishings.

If the characters go to sleep after being escorted by Dr Delacroix, they’ll find themselves locked in.  As Delacroix explains:

“I’m afraid these rooms are all we have.  We used to have rather more patients, but in recent years we’ve had this ward converted into additional chambers for staff and visitors.  Unfortunately the doors can only be opened from the outside; a safety precaution.  I’ll be sure to have someone come by and let you out early tomorrow.”

Though the doors do indeed lock automatically, they can technically be picked (Disable Device DC 40) or forced (DC 25).  If the characters were guileless enough to drink the wine provided them by Delacroix in the dining room, the delayed-onset poison they ingested kicks in around now (about 1 hour after ingestion) – Fortitude DC 15 to resist.  If they fail they fall into a stupor for 1d3 hours and will wake up in one of the chambers in the Intensive Treatment Wing, or even strapped down to a slab in one of the Laboratories in the basement if they annoyed Delacroix somehow.  Of course, with any luck the characters either pass their saves or avoided ingesting the poison in the first place.  If they did pass their saves, they’ll be treated to a visit by a pair of Orderlies later in the night (they come in through the door) – make Stealth checks for the Orderlies (+11) as they approach (if the character perceives them, they hear approaching footsteps).

Disused Ward

Soundtrack

The door to the disused ward has been locked (Disable Device DC 25, force DC 20,   or use the Eye Key) and boarded shut (Strength DC 20 to quickly pull off the boards).  The Intellect Devourers and their minions shun the ward because of the spirit of Valentin Morel, who has become an allip and haunts the ward.  If dispersed Morel’s spirit re-forms the next night.  It will only depart if the Intellect Devourers are slain or their experiments otherwise ended.

Dust and cobwebs shroud this hall, which has obviously not been in use for quite some time.  An door with the words “Dr Valentin Morel” on it is evident to the left.

31 – Dr Valentin’s Study

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The door to the study is locked (Disable Device DC 30 to pick, Strength DC 25 to force, or open with the Brain Key).  However, there is a trapdoor from the attic (Disable Device DC 25 to pick, DC 20 to force, or open with the Eye Key).

You enter a spacious, well-appointed study with fine wooden furniture.  The walls are lined with handsome shelves containing numerous medical texts, most of them pertaining to mental illness – its causes, effects, and methods of treatment.  A large writing desk and a leather chair are placed near the curtained window; there are some papers on the desk, but in general the place looks disused, with a thick layer of dust lying over everything.  There are some old stains on one wall and on part of the floor; they have been partially scrubbed off but are still visible, though faded, under the dust.  There are also some heavy scuff-marks on the floor around the door.

The papers are diary entries.  It would probably have occurred to humanoids to burn these papers and so dispose of them, but this has not occurred to the Intellect Devourers (their Grimlock orderlies do think like other humanoids, broadly speaking, but lacking sight they have never developed a written language and so have not noticed the diaries).

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After reading these documents, the characters will be confronted by the spirit of Dr Valentin Morel – having been driven mad himself by the sight of the Intellect Devourers and their handiwork, and having committed suicide, he has returned as an (advanced) Allip:

There is a flash of lightning and suddenly you become aware of a figure standing in the corner, watching you intently.  Dressed in a tattered doctor’s coat, the spirit bears the stern visage of Dr Valentin Morel, recognizable from the portrait in the foyer, albeit contorted into an expression of madness and despair.  As he moves towards you, you see that the back of his head has been blown out, as if he put a pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger.  Gliding forwards, flickering through furniture, the spirit begins babbling incoherently, reciting random passages from medical textbooks in a hideous, inhuman voice.

Harry-Clarke--Poe

Sanity check on seeing the Allip (1/1d6).  If you’re using the d20 Sanity rules, note that the Allip’s Touch of Madness ability deals 2d6 Sanity damage rather than Wisdom drain.  If a character is reduced to 0 Sanity by the Allip, they die immediately and become an Allip as described under the “Create Spawn” ability of the advanced Allip.

The wheellock pistol is nowhere to be found.

 32 – Archive and Map Room

This must be the sanitarium’s archive – there are shelves full of rolled up scrolls and record books here.  Most appear to simply be inventories of supplies, payment records, and rosters of inmates or staff.  On one wall are framed floor plans of l’Hôpital de Corbin and its basement.

The characters can liberate these maps, greatly assisting exploration of the asylum.

33 – Library

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A hole in the roof has let water into this library room, and the books lining its shelves – mostly medical texts, by the look of things – have become thoroughly infested with mildew and yellowish mould.

The stacks are infested with yellow mould.  There’s really not much to salvage here.

Next up: the attic and the basement.

The Savour of Madness: Intensive Treatment Ward and Children’s Ward

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Floor 2

Asylum Map, Floor 2

15 – Dining Room

You enter a large dining room with an antique wooden table, ornately carved.  Cabinets of silverware are evident to one side, adjacent to a small dumbwaiter.  A wrought-iron chandelier, currently unlit, dangles from the ceiling like some monstrous black spider.  The table itself is set with a somewhat shabby grey tablecloth.  One wall is given over to a very large painting depicting a fleet of warships sailing on a stormy sea.

The silverware is quite valuable (about 500 gp worth of silver here), but very heavy (about 100 lbs total).  If the characters have been escorted here by Delacroix, the table is already set for dinner:

The table is lain for dinner, one place set for each of you, with several bottles of wine on the table as well.  The meal consists of a pork roast, cooked rather rarely, with a variety of seasonal vegetables on the side, along with a loaf of bread.  Steam wafts from the meal; the smell is extremely appetizing.

“I’m afraid this is the best we could provide on such short notice,” Dr Delacroix says.  “You’ll excuse me if I don’t eat myself.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a few matters to attend to.  I’ll return shortly to show you to your chambers.”

The suspicions of the characters aside, the meal is actually pork.  The wine, however, is poisoned with Oil of Restfulness that has been modified to kick in after about an hour (Fortitude DC 15 or fall unconscious for 1d3 horus).

The characters now have a chance to discuss their plan of action or even to try and slip away and explore the asylum more thoroughly.  Outside the dining room doors, however, Delacroix has positioned a pair of Orderlies.  However, the characters could attempt to use the dumbwaiter to move down to the kitchen below.  The dumbwaiter can carry Small characters easily, but if a Medium character uses it (or any character whose weight plus the weight of their gear exceeds 150 lbs) there is a 10% chance that the dumbwaiter ropes will snap, sending the character hurtling downwards for 3d6 damage (a DC 15 Acrobatics check reduces this to 2d6 damage and 1d6 non-lethal damage).  Other characters will have to Climb down (DC 20) or jump down (Acrobatics DC 15 for 1d6 damage and 1d6 non-lethal damage).  The noise of the dumbwaiter breaking will instantly attract an Orderly; merely using the dumbwaiter gives the Orderly a Perception check (DC 20) to hear the commotion.

16 – Orderlies’ Quarters

This small chamber has a neatly made bed, a desk, and a chest of drawers.  The room is very tidy, but a thick layer of dust lies over everything, and there are cobwebs in the corners.

The Grimlocks don’t like these rooms, preferring to lair underground.  As a result the chambers have become disused.  While some outfits can be found in the chest of drawers, some of them are moth-eaten or otherwise decayed.

Intensive Treatment Ward

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Soundtrack

The doors in this ward are locked (Disable Device DC 30, Strength DC 25 to force, or used the Brain Key).

This long, winding hall is lined with reinforced doors, each of which bears a small viewing hatch that can be opened or closed.  You can hear noises emanating from behind some of the doors – screams of terror, mad laughter, and the sound of someone praying loudly.  As you watch, a door opens and two orderlies drag an inmate in a straitjacket out of one of the chambers and down the hall.

“It wasn’t me!” the man babbles.  “It moved on its own!  It wasn’t me!  It wasn’t me!”

If the players aren’t being stealthy, the orderlies will be alarmed by their appearance; if the alarm has been raised they’ll abandon their victim and attack the players, otherwise, one will approach the players and simply say “Go.  Not allowed here.”

The chamber the inmate was being removed from is the Mirror Chamber.

At any given time, it’s likely 1-2 Alienists are here, supervising the treatments.

17 – The Rotary Chair

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A strange mechanism dominates this room: a set of wheels and pulleys that turn a large, spinning centrifuge with a niche where someone could sit or lie, complete with restraints.

This rotary chair was actually used by the original alienists in their treatment of patients to try and increase blood-flow to the brain.  The Intellect Devourers still use the device sometimes, Grimlocks turning the centrifuge so it rotates at high speeds.

18 – Hydrotherapy Chamber

This spare, ill-lit chamber has a single bathtub, currently brimming with water.  Submerged within it and imprisoned in a series of leather restraints is an inmate, muzzled and struggling weakly.  Only their head remains above water.

Again, this technique was originally used as a therapy.  Now inmates are left in the tub for days or weeks at a time, given enough food and water to survive.

19 – Leeching Chamber

This square chamber has a small bed with metal restraints where someone could be pinioned down.  In a large aquarium to one side dozens of fat, black leeches can be seen, a mass of glistening, writhing bodies.  The aquarium looks to hold more leeches than it was originally intended to, as they’re packed in tightly.  The water they’re sitting in looks filthy.

Again, this was an actual treatment room, but now the Intellect Devourers abuse the treatment thoroughly, putting dozens of leeches on inmates.  If the tank is shattered the leeches can form a leech swarm, although with a speed of 5 ft. on land it is easily outrun.  These particular leeches can also pass on Mindfire to their victims.

20 – Hallucination Chamber

Henry Fuseli

This seems to be nothing more than a spare, padded cell.

Perception DC 20 to notice the small gas-jets hidden in the corners, and to hear the hiss of gas if the door is closed.  The gas is similar to Insanity Mist, but instead of damaging Wisdom, deals 1d3 Sanity damage on a failed Fortitude save (DC 15, 1/round for 6 rounds, 1 save cures).  In addition to losing Sanity, characters begin hallucinating for 1d4 minutes after coming under the effects of the gas.  Pass around slips of paper describing their individual hallucinations.  You can make up as many as you like (personal hallucinations are sometimes the most powerful), but here are a few to get you started:

Roll 1d20 Hallucination
1 Your flesh is rotting, putrefying, sloughing off your bones as you watch.
2 You hear the sound of someone screaming outside the room and down the corridor.
3 The walls are bleeding, streams of blood trickling down and pooling on the floor.  If it   continues at this rate it’s going to flood the room quickly.
4 Something outside the room is breathing loudly.  Something big.
5 Your skin breaks out with pestilential growths, tumours and buboes that make it bubble and suppurate, leprous sores coursing   across your body.
6 There is someone in the room with you.    Every time you move to look at them they seems to disappear, hovering in your periphery, only visible obliquely, out of the corner of your eye.
7 Swarms of vermin are coursing out from holes in the walls, a seething tide of insects writhing towards you.
8 Heavy, hoofed footsteps are audible outside the room.  A hideous bleating echoes   through the asylum, such as might be made by some abominable goat.
9 You can smell smoke, and feel the walls begin to warm.  The asylum must be on fire!
10 Mocking laughter resounds from every corner of the room.  It echoes through your skull, in   the depths of your mind.  It makes you want to laugh too… to laugh long and loud.
11 A rumbling overhead is audible, and fragments of the ceiling are dislodged as the whole room begins to collapse.
12 Your clothing has somehow become animated and is trying to kill you, constricting your limbs and neck, trying to strangle you.
13 Your fingers are becoming webbed, your flesh mottling and secreting slime.  You can feel   gills opening at your neck.  You can no longer breathe air – you need to find water and immerse yourself immediately.
14 The floor is covered in venomous snakes!
15 You’re being petrified!  As you watch your skin begins to turn to stone before your eyes, starting at your fingertips and moving up along your   arms, towards your torso.
16 Fur bristles from your limbs and your nails elongate, becoming claws.  A lupine tail bursts from your back, twitching back and forth.    A bestial rage and animalistic hunger fills you.  You must have meat!
17 Your shadow just moved in a way that it shouldn’t have – like it’s become detached form you somehow, moving of its own accord.  What is happening to you?
18 The walls of the room are closing in.  If you don’t move quickly you’ll all be crushed – but the door to the room has disappeared.
19 Something is squirming beneath your skin – you can feel it writhing, trying to burrow its way deeper into your body.  You’ve got to get it out!
20 Your friends are trying to kill you!  They are advancing upon you with evil in their eyes and weapons drawn.  Have they been psychically dominated, or replaced with evil duplicates?!  Whatever the case, you must defend yourself!

21 – Mirror Chamber

Three walls of this chamber are padded, but the fourth wall consists entirely of a single, enormous mirror reflecting you and your companions.  The room is otherwise completely empty.  A hanging lamp provides illumination.

If the characters linger here, the mirror begins to change (Perception DC 15 to notice these changes begin if the characters want to leave immediately):

As you watch, you realize that your reflections are imperfect – they seem to be smirking back at you, smiling slyly.  Slowly their smiles widen into unnerving grins.  They stare at you, teeth bared.

If they still linger…

The reflections are now moving of their own accord.  One begins beating at the silvered glass as if trying to get out.  The others draw their weapons and begin carving at one another, hacking off limbs and carving hideous wounds into each other’s flesh, still smiling all the while; in fact, they seem to be thoroughly enjoying the massacre.  The carnage is completely silent.  As blood spurts, spattering the reflections’ side of the mirror with crimson, you find yourself wondering whether the mirror is actually just a pane of glass, with another room on the other side inhabited by your murderous doppelgangers.  Then another thought creeps in: what if the images are in your mind, and you’re imagining the atrocities being acted out in the mirror?

Sanity check (0/1d6).

If the ensorceled mirror is broken, the reflections begin screaming silently as their bodies begin coming apart, skin shattering like glass, bones broken and fragmented.  Shards of glass still reflect a twisted version of reality, even if taken from the room.

22 – Personality Transposition Chamber

The walls and floor of this chamber have been tiled in red and black.  Two leather chairs – one red, one black – stand in the middle of the room, each equipped with leather restraints and each hooked up to a complicated apparatus that includes a vise-like device that would be clamped around a person’s head.  The chairs are positioned back to back and are connected by a series of wires, with a switch set off to one side.  A low hum resonates through the room, an ominous drone that makes the walls and floor vibrate very slightly.

This chamber allows for body-switching.  Two characters who seat themselves in the chair, hook themselves up to the apparatus, and hit the switch will swap consciousnesses.  Class levels and mental stats are transferred while physical stats and racial bonuses and penalties remain the same.  This process is mentally taxing, requiring a Sanity check (1/1d6).

23 – Book Chamber

Old_book_gathering

At the centre of this square chamber, illuminated by a single lamp, is a lectern upon which rests a thick tome bound in pale leather.

The book is called the Tome of Nightmares.  Anyone who begins reading it must make a Sanity check or compulsively read on (interrupting them forcefully grants a second check).  The book is telepathic, capable of discerning the worst fears and phobias of the reader; the text which appears on its pages consists of stories directly featuring such objects of terror.  If a character finishes the book, they will be unable to sleep restfully, leaving them fatigued and unable to regain arcane spells for 24 hours.  They also lose 1d6 Sanity.

24 – Chamber of the Flickering Shadow

An inmate, Bertrand (Patient 513), is pounding on the door of the room, trying desperately to escape.  If the characters open the door he rushes out:

A terrified-looking man rushes out of the room, nearly tripping in his straitjacket.  He is blubbering madly, his whole body shaking.

“Don’t go in there!” he shrieks, stumbling down the corridor as best he can.

Inside the room:

This room seems to be nothing more than a padded cell lit by a single lamp.  The lamp flickers continuously, plunging the chamber into momentary gloom.

Perception DC 10 to notice:

As the lamp flickers, you realize that in the darkness you can catch a brief glimpse of a tall, faceless figure, a gaunt, spidery thing with a hole where its face should be.  With each flicker of the lamp the figure takes a step closer towards you.

If the figure is allowed to reach the characters they must make a Sanity check or take 2d6 Sanity damage and attempt to flee the room at all costs, as if they were suffering from a Fear spell.  If their Sanity reaches 0 due to this effect, they die of fright.

The source of the figure is actually the lamp, which can be detatched.  A Lamp of Fear, the object can be lit in order to produce an effect similar to the Fear spell (Will DC 18 to resist, or a Sanity check) to all within 10 ft., but the item only functions in conditions of dim light and consumes oil like a normal lamp.  If someone is holding the lamp and aware of its abilities they are nonetheless not immune to this effect.  The Lamp is worth 12000 gp.

25 – Susurrus Room

The walls of this chamber have been covered in what looks like scraps of human skin, stitched together into macabre wallpaper.  On each patch of sallow, leathery flesh is a human mouth.  Some of the mouths are old, others young; some bear carious teeth or teeth filed into points.  All of them are whispering suggestions – vile obscenities lovingly described, each mouth urging a different act of unspeakable violence and depravity.  Crouched in a corner with her hands over her ears trying to block out the susurrus of evil is an inmate, shaking back and forth and praying loudly.

Simply listening to the constant murmuring requires a Sanity check (1/1d6).

Pious Mary is a religious maniac (Patient 766) who was condemned to the asylum after murdering several “sinners” who had “passed beyond redemption.”  The susurrus has exacerbated her paranoia so that she believes anyone approaching her is a demon trying to tempt her, whom she will violently attack.  She is unarmed but will use her Rage power to make a bite attack.

26 – The Art Gallery

This chamber has one wall dominated by a large painting, with many smaller paintings occupying the other walls.  The big painting depicts an enormous, dead oak tree with gnarled boughs.  The tree has been used as a gallows: several corpses dangle from its branches.  The other paintings all depict individuals being tortured or executed by robed, faceless figures – being broken on a wheel, stretched on a rack, decapitated by axe or guillotine, pulled apart by horses, impaled, crushed, burnt, and otherwise mangled.

Upon closer inspection (or a DC 15 Perception check) the characters will recognize themselves as the victims in the paintings.  This realization provokes a Sanity check (0/1d4).  Once the paintings have been seen by someone they become “fixed” in that form for them, even if later moved.

The Children’s Ward

leonardo fetus drawings

Soundtrack

The doors in this ward are locked (Disable Device DC 30, Strength DC 25 to force, or used the Brain Key).

The sound of miserable children sniffling, crying, and mumbling in troubled sleep fills this long corridor, which is lined with barred cells.

In total there are 118 children stuffed into the cells in this ward.

27 – Children’s Cell

At least a dozen dirty children, ranging in age from about fix or six to mid adolescence, are packed into the dirty cell visible behind the bars.  As you approach they back away hastily.

Most of the children will not believe the characters aren’t Intellect Devourers and will think they’re being tricked.  It takes a DC 25 Diplomacy check to convince them of good intent, and even then they don’t fully trust the characters.  If released they scatter unless instructed very carefully to remain calm.

28 – The Kid

The child in this cell has been warped through some twisted magic, his body radically altered, grafted with alien flesh: from the waist down the boy’s body has been replaced with that of a goat, giving him the appearance of some miniature hircine centaur.   His eyes, likewise, have been replaced with the eerie horizontal-slitted eyes of a goat.

Sanity check (0/1d4) on seeing the Kid.

The Kid’s real name is Abélard, and has lived at the asylum as long as he can remember.  He is beginning to lose his humanity, occasional interspersing his words with bleating sounds.

The Savour of Madness

brain2

Last October, I sent the players in my Planescape campaign to Ravenloft.  This year I’m doing it again, and I’ll be sharing the adventure I’m running here as well.

Synopsis

The adventure centers around an asylum, L’Hôpital de Corbin, located in a mountain range (for the curative properties of alpine air).  Ten years ago, the asylum was infiltrated by a brood of Intellect Devourers fleeing persecution from their former masters (in Ravenloft these would be from the Lovecraftian Domain of Bluetspur; in other settings they could hail from the Underdark, another planet, or an alternate dimension, such as the Far Realm).  The Intellect Devourers, forming an alliance with a tribe of Grimlocks dwelling under the mountains, seize control of the asylum after discovering that the brains of the inmates are especially delectable.  Embalming the bodies of the asylum staff and replaced the orderlies with disguised Grimlocks, the Intellect Devourers continue to pose as alienists, accepting patients for treatment.  However, instead of attempting to cure the insane, the Intellect Devourers seek instead to worsen the madness of those in their care, to “season the meat,” so to speak.  Having become addicted to lunacy, the Intellect Devourers seek ever more creative (and depraved) means of worsening the insanity of their prisoners.

The characters may enter the adventure for any number of reasons, although the version given below assumes they are working for the Vistani, Ravenloft’s version of the Romani people, in exchange for passage out of the Domain of Dread.  Charged with investigating L’Hôpital de Corbin, they slowly uncover its twisted secrets and must confront the Intellect Devourers and their minions without succumbing to madness themselves.

Influences

This adventure was heavily influenced by two AD&D Ravenloft adventures – Sea of Madness in the Bleak House boxed set, and RQ2: Thoughts of Darkness.  There are several problems with these adventures – Sea of Madness railroads players far, far too much and depends on their extended capture and torture in a way that I don’t especially approve of, and Thoughts of Darkness is just too consistently strange to feel like classic Ravenloft, at least for me (there’s not enough quotidian, mundane material for the weird and horrific to stand out; the adventure might work in an extended Ravenloft campaign, but not for a jaunt to Ravenloft).  Still, these adventures have superb ideas and imagery which I’ve drawn on.  David Noonan’s adventure Spiral of Manzessine in Dungeon 94, Iain Banks’ novel The Wasp Factory, the works of the Marquis de Sade, and H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness” were also sources of inspiration to varying extents.  I wrote this adventure for my Pathfinder group (playing in the Planescape universe), but it could easily be adapted to other systems, especially horror-based systems.

Notes on Running the Adventure

  • Ravenloft sessions are ideally played in the evening, preferably by candlelight.  If you’re playing a regular campaign in which your players are whisked off to Ravenloft, I suggest making a “transition” from the regular game: at first, make them think an ordinary session is occurring, and then, as the Mists roll in, turn out the lights and light candles.
  • I use music extensively in all of my games, and I think music is especially useful for horror games.  For additional atmosphere, I suggest utilizing some storm sounds.  Play the storm sounds fairly low so that they don’t drown out the music (finding these is very easy; some samples are included below).

 Exterior storm soundtrack      Interior storm soundtrack

  • When players discover documents, make sure you have handouts prepared (preferably aged and crinkled).  Hand them the documents and have them read them aloud, squinting in the candlelight to discern the writing.
  • If characters are making Perception rolls and only one or two characters passed the roll, you may wish to scribble down what they saw on a piece of paper and then pass it to them rather than telling the whole group.
  • Don’t railroad the characters.  If they improvise, subvert the plans of the Alienists, refuse to drink the drugged wine, evade capture, burn the place down, set all the inmates free, or anything else, just go with it.  However, it’s alright to play Delacroix and the other Intellect Devourers forcefully – overly polite passive aggression is particularly suitable – as they try to trick and then eventually kidnap and torture the characters.

Sanity

Sanity rules of your choice are highly encouraged.  For a basic d20 Sanity system the rules found here work adequately, and are assumed throughout the adventure.

Lyell_Structure_Of_Braintumblr_lh6b4eQoC61qh8l8yo1_500

Alternate Settings and Systems

This adventure could very easily be adapted to other settings.  While the assumed setting is Ravenloft – specifically in the Domains of Dementlieu or Richemulot – the adventure could easily be adapted to a different setting, and is particularly well suited to steampunk, Victorian, or urban fantasy settings.  If a historical setting were desired, the adventure could easily be transplanted to eighteenth- or nineteenth-century France or similar settings.

Likewise, while the system used is Pathfinder, alternate systems could easily be utilized (in particular Call of Cthulhu would work well – with Call of Cthulhu d20 most of the statistics and DCs would even remain the same).

Alternate Hooks

Here are some alternative means of getting characters into the adventure:

  • The characters have been contracted by a local government to investigate unsettling rumours concerning the asylum and its staff.
  • The characters are simply passing through the mountains and are caught in the storm, and must seek shelter or else risk exposure.  Wolves or other beasts may also harry them till they reach the asylum.
  • The characters are escorting a relative, friend, or adventuring companion suffering from a mental illness to the asylum in hopes of getting treatment for them.
  • The characters have all been having nightmares in which images of the asylum recur, a side-effect of the psychic ripples the Intellect Devourers’ activities create.  They have traveled to L’Hôpital de Corbin to discover the significance of these dreams.

Into the Mists

procession mist

Soundtrack

A thick, dark Mist surrounds you, tenebrous tendrils of the stuff swirling round you, coiling round your limbs, caressing your skin.  Echoes of maniacal laughter resound through the eerie brume as the Mist continues to congeal, enveloping you utterly, and an uncanny sensation fills you, a feeling of deep unease.  Your skin horripilates, hair bristling, and for a moment you can no longer see your companions.  Then, gradually, the Mist begins to thin and clear.  Bone-coloured moonlight shimmers down from a sky black as a skull’s empty socket.  Rain trickles down around you, and you can hear a distant rumble of thunder.

While in Ravenloft, non-Evil characters suffer a -2 penalty to all Charisma checks.  Evil spells are empowered.  Divination spells are impeded (Spellcraft DC 15+level to cast).  Detect Good/Evil spells simply don’t function, nor do regular planeshift spells or other spells that interact with other planes (though extradimensional spaces still function normally).

Vistani Camp

As the Mist continues to clear, you find yourself in a dark mountain valley, lightly wooded.  The Mist is clearing but the rain is worsening, soaking you in a matters of moments.  You seem to be on a rough road winding up into the mountains ahead.

Perception DC 10 to note the camp:

You glimpse flickering, yellow lights off to one side of the road, nestled against the hills.

Nearer…

There’s a small camp up ahead, consisting of several colourful caravans clustered together, gaudily painted and lit by lanterns.  Several men and women move about the camp, stowing things in their waggons.

The Fortune-teller

fortuneteller

A young woman with piercing eyes and dark hair partially covered by a red shawl approaches you, a quizzical look on her face.

“You are strangers in this land,” she says, stating a fact rather than asking a question.  “I can sense it.  Have you come here of your own will, or did the Mists take you?”

If they answer (truthfully) that the Mists took them:

The woman nods.  “Come; we have much to discuss.”  She gestures to one of the waggons, indicating that you enter.

The Waggon

Inside the waggon some of the night chill leaves you.  The warmly lit space is decorated with colourful cushions, curtains, and other decorations.  There’s a small table in the middle with a candle and a deck of cards.  In the back, an old woman lies on a cot, stirring fitfully in her sleep, murmuring unintelligibly.  She seems pale – perhaps she is sickly.

The young woman follows you in.  “Take a seat,” she says, indicating the stools and divans spread about the table.

After the characters are settled, the fortune-teller explains:

“My name is Tasaria,” she says.  “A seer in training, of the Vistani, of the Boem Tasque.  Long ago, we Vistani adopted the Land of the Mists as our own, and only we know the secret of travelling through the Mists.  If you aid us, it is possible we could return you to your home.  Is this something that you desire?”

If they say yes:

“My teacher, Madame Sorina, is the raunie of our tribe – the most powerful Seer we have.  She is capable of navigating the Mists, and of many other things besides, but she has taken ill, fallen into a dread sleep from which she has not awakened for days.  Before she succumbed, she spoke to me of visions in her dreams, images of a place called l’Hôpital de Corbin – an asylum established by the people of this land for the treatment of the insane.  She told me that she sensed a great evil emanating from that place, an unclean presence that clouded her Sight.  Then she lapsed into this torpor.”  She shakes her head.  “We Vistani must always move: we are a wandering people.  If we linger for too long in any one place, we begin to sicken, eventually becoming mortu, losing all of our powers.  Little time remains before this fate befalls us.”

She looks out of one of the small windows.  “If you were to seek out this asylum and rid the place of the evil that Madame Sorina saw there, it could revive her.  In exchange, we could return you to your home – or anywhere else you desire, for the Mists can touch all places.  Is this acceptable?”

If they accept:

She nods.  “I suggest you pose as travellers, seeking shelter from the storm.  This will give you pretense to enter the asylum and seek out the source of Madame Sorina’s visions.”

The Mountain Road

Öl, Leinwand34,9 x 48,5 cmFrankfurt (Main), Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie, Inventar-Nr. 1821, Zugang: Ankauf, 1927

The storm imposes a -4 penalty to Perception checks

The road winds up into the mountains, becoming progressively steeper.  The storm continues to intensify, lightning crackling across the black sky, dark clouds now obscuring the moon completely.  The path is slippery with mud.  You can see waggon-ruts in the road – carts have driven through here repeatedly, wearing tracks in the path.

The Goat

Perception DC 20:

High up on a crag above the path, you glimpse a black goat watching you intently with yellow eyes.  When it realizes it’s been seen the creature shakes its horned head and trots off into the storm, disappearing from sight.

The goat is actually the host for an Intellect Devourer, one of the brood in the asylum.

L’Hôpital de Corbin

Edinburgh_Infirmary

madhouse

Soundtrack

The road terminates at the wrought iron gates of L’Hôpital de Corbin, an imposing building of three stories built of weathered, grey-brown stone.  Though quite ornate, the building itself is unremarkable, though its windows have all been barred.  Ivy and lichens have infested the asylum’s walls and roof, and the building looks generally run-down, but smoke issues from the chimneys and some of the windows show lights.  The structure itself  has two principal wings extending from the main building.  Apart from the sanitarium itself the grounds – enclosed by a high, spiked fence – include a small chapel, a cemetery, a coach house, and what looks like the groundskeeper’s cottage.  Rain continues to pour down, and thunder echoes off the surrounding mountains.

The Intellect Devourers

The Intellect Devourers who now run L’Hôpital de Corbin – the Alienists, as they call themselves – will put on a show for the characters, pretending to be a “normal” asylum.  When required, the Grimlock orderlies and other servitors utilize potions of Disguise Self brewed in the alchemical laboratory in the basement in order to masquerade as human.

The adventure assumes the non-Psionic version of the Intellect Devourer, but it would be very easy to adjust it to use the Psionic variant instead.

There are 13 Intellect Devourers total (though, of course, this number can be adjusted as desired).  At the beginning of the scenario, they are assumed to be in the following bodies:

1) Ulthoon is in the body of a goat patrolling the area around the asylum.

2) Ilsenzor is in the body of an inmate, posing as the groundskeeper.

3) Quasiriant, the “leader” of the brood, is in the body of Dr Delacroix (Alienist stats for host, full stats below).  If not escorting the characters, he’ll usually be in his study.

4) Yrgell is in the body of Nurse Genevieve in the Infirmary.

5) 4 more Intellect Devourers are in Alienist bodies, generally in their quarters (16), or in the basement (in Examination Rooms, Laboratories, the Marionette Room, etc).

6) 5 are in the bodies of inmates either posing as staff or in the basement chambers.

Statistics for additional hosts and for particular NPCs are provided in the Appendix.

The Orderlies

At any given time, they are around 20-30 Orderlies in the asylum proper itself.  The rest of the tribe (another 40 or so Grimlocks) lurk in the Tunnels below.

Orderlies are betrayed by their tendency to sniff and their failure to meet the eyes of anyone they come across. They also cannot speak the Common tongue well, doing so brokenly if at all.  Repeated attempts at communication are met with blank looks, hisses, and bared teeth.

When an Orderly is killed the Disguise Self spell dissipates and they revert to their ordinary form, which provokes a Sanity check (0/1d4):

The Orderly falls dead, and his visage seethes and bubbles, an illusion dissipating and skin sloughing away to reveal a different face beneath – grey-skinned, hairless, and with white, blind eyes and a mouthful of fangs.

Seeing a Grimlock alive without the illusion provokes a Sanity check as well (0/1d6).  The maximum sanity loss Grimlocks can provoke is 6.

The Grounds

Ernst_Ferdinand_Oehme

The grounds are ill-tended and overgrown, the grass tall and unweeded.  Gravel paths wind throughout the sanitarium’s estate, and the now-barren remains of flowerbeds or vegetable gardens can be seen here and there.  Copses of sickly-looking trees loom over the grounds, casting spidery shadows on the pale grass.  The rain has churned the ground to mud.

The Groundskeeper

The “groundskeeper” is nothing more than a gate-guard at this point – he does nothing to actually maintain the grounds.  He’s actually a former inmate that’s been taken over by an Intellect Devourer, Ilsenzor.  The inmate/host has stats similar to these, but wields a dagger (+8 to hit, 1d4+4 damage) and a stout cudgel (+8 to hit, 1d6+4 damage); he may also be equipped with a pistol or musket.  The groundskeeper patrols the estate periodically and will approach characters if they attempt to investigate the chapel, coach house, cottage, or cemetery:

A scowling, red-haired man with a pockmarked face approaches you.  He carries a cudgel in one meaty hand and a lantern in the other, and wears a somewhat shabby uniform of some kind.  He raises the lantern and squints at you with black, beady eyes, rain pattering off his leather hat.  His complexion is waxen and pale; he looks unwell.

“Trespassers, is it?” he asks, baring yellowed teeth.

As with the other Intellect Devourers’ hosts, the groundskeeper is slowly rotting.  Perception DC 20 to notice the man smells awful, somewhat like rotting meat.  A Perception check of 30 or higher reveals a small patch of rotting flesh on his wrist, partially concealed by his fraying sleeve.  The groundskeeper – who calls himself Gerard after the previous, actual groundskeeper – will attempt to escort the characters to the asylum proper.  He has a ring of wrought-iron keys with ornate bows forged in the shapes of body part – the Eye, Hand, and Heart keys.

Coach House

The coach house is built of the same stone as the asylum itself and has an attached stables; several horses can be seen within.  The doors to the coach house are open, revealing a large carriage and a smaller waggon within.  Hitching posts surround the carriage yard.

There are six heavy horses here.  They are well fed and cared for, though there likely won’t be any stablehands around.  The players may need to avail themselves of the horses to escape the asylum at some point; in this event, throw a pair of Grimlocks in to complicate things.

Groundskeeper’s Cottage

The groundskeeper’s cottage is a small, single-story building built next to a stagnant pond.  Like the chapel and the coach house it’s made of stone, though its roof is of wooden slates and looks to be slowly rotting, ridden with moss and fungi.  The windows are dim and shrouded with curtains.

The cottage is locked (Disable Device DC 20 or use the Eye Key).

The groundskeeper’s cottage is a slovenly mess; the furniture (a bed, table, a few chairs, and a chest of drawers) is beginning to rot, the deer-hide rug is tattered and stained, and the place has not been cleaned or swept in quite some time.  There are several paintings of pastoral scenes hanging askew on the walls, but they have been defaced, the figures in them now bear extra heads, limbs, or body parts belonging to animals, scribbled additions in charcoal or what might be blood.  A rusty, double-barrelled musket (leans against one wall, next to an open chest with a small supply of gunpowder and round bullets.

There’s a double-barreled musket here, obviously, along with 30 bullets and 30 doses of gunpowder.

Chapel

The asylum’s chapel is in a state of disrepair: the door has been boarded up, chained, and padlocked, and some the stained glass windows have been cracked or broken.  A pair of moss-ridden gargoyles leer at you from the thoroughly rotten roof.  A cemetery adjoins the disused chapel.

It requires a Strength check (DC 20) to remove the boards by hand, and the door is locked (Disable Device DC 20 or use the Eye Key).  Inside:

The chapel is small and shadowy, with rows of stone pews set before a modest altar and a wooden pulpit, now beginning to rot.  A rat scurries across the floor.  The stained glass window at the far end of the church depicts a shield with a sword pointing downwards, adorned with a sprig of belladonna.  Despite the dereliction of the chapel, a sense of calm fills you here. The sound of the rain pattering against the stained glass windows is curiously soothing.

Any non-Evil character taking refuse of the chapel heals 1d4 Sanity points immediately (this only occurs once).

Knowledge (religion) DC 25 to recognize the symbol of Ezra, Lady of the Mists.  On the pulpit there is a book of prayers, including this common prayer:

“Blessed Ezra, Our Guardian in the Mists,

She who sacrificed Herself to fill the Hollow,
Healer of the sick, protector of the weak, guide to the lost,
To You we pray. Watch over us, Your people.

Take us under Your protection,
Show us the light when we are lost in darkness,

Defend us when the Legions of the Night draw close,
Lead us to our place in the Grand Scheme,

And bring us through the night to the shelter of peace.”

In the pulpit there’s a compartment (Disable Device DC 25 to pick) containing 4 Scrolls of Protection from Evil and a +1 Holy Silver Dagger with the word “Grace” engraved on the blade.

Cemetery

cemetery

The cemetery is of considerable size, filled with dozens of headstones marked only with numbers and dates.  Many of the graves are chipped or weather-worn, spattered with bird droppings or overgrown with weeds and lichens.

An examination of the headstones turns up something unusual: the last person buried in the graveyard died over ten years ago (year 735).  Before that point, bodies had been interred fairly regularly.  This is because it was ten years ago when the Intellect Devourers and their servants moved in; the Orderlies have been eating bodies ever since, rather than burying them.

The Asylum

the-madhouse-1735

Soundtrack

Greeting

delacroix

The doors to the asylum open, and a smiling figure minces across the foyer towards you.  Dressed in a dark coat, vest, and stockings and wearing a powdered wig, the man is pale and exceedingly gaunt.  Dark eyes glimmer from his sunken sockets, and his yellow grin reminds you of a skull; in one hand he holds a lamp.  He extends his other hand, pallid and long-fingered, offering it to shake.  Thunder crackles distantly.

“Ah, welcome to L’Hôpital de Corbin!” he says.  “We so rarely receive sane visitors.  I am Dr Delacroix, the Aliéniste Principal.”

Dr Delacroix – actually the Intellect Devourer Quasiriant – will warmly greet characters, offering them food, rooms for the night, and the promise of a tour in the morning (this assumes, of course, the characters have arrived at night; if they’ve arrived in daylight, adjust accordingly).  Perception DC 20 to the person shaking his hand:

Dr Delacroix’s hand is cold and clammy, his handshake is very firm.  As you come close to the thin, elegant figure you catch a whiff of some strong cologne masking a sour smell reminiscent of spoiled meat and acrid chemicals.

Delacroix will invite the characters to sup and will attempt to lead them up to the Dining Room on the second level of the asylum before escorting them to the guest chambers on the third.  Then the real fun begins…

First Floor

Asylum_Map

1 – Foyer

The foyer is an expansive tiled chamber with a reception desk and a crystal chandelier.  A somewhat rickety but richly carpeted stair winds up to the second and third floors of the sanitarium, while ornate wooden doors to the right and left lead to other parts of the asylum.  Hanging on the walls are several paintings: one is a portrait of a distinguished looking man in a powdered wig with a prominent nose and steely eyes with a plaque reading “Dr Valentin Morel” beneath it, another depicts a local mountain scene, sunny and pastoral, with frolicking goats and locals, and a third is actually a framed anatomical drawing of a giant squid.  A few lit candles provide meagre illumination; outside you can hear the rain and storm.

Perception DC 15:

You can hear noises elsewhere in the asylum – a distant scream, a cackle of laughter, and someone sobbing desperately.

Perception DC 25 (same roll – if they got a 25, just keep reading):

In addition to the sobbing sounds, you can hear someone pleading desperately for mercy, begging someone else to stop hurting them.  You think, also, that you can hear the sound of some machinery, somewhere – the creak of gears, the tautening of a rope.

2 – Mess Hall

This long chamber must be the mess hall – there are a series of long wooden tables with benches arrayed in two columns.  A set of double doors leads to what is probably the kitchen.

3 – Kitchen

The kitchen is unremarkable, with several large tables, a stove, pots and pans hanging from pegs, and a dumbwaiter with a small lever beside it.  A stone stair leads down into the cellar, and an adjoining pantry contains spices, foodstuffs, baking supplies, and other ingredients.

The kitchen staff consist of three disguised Grimlocks.  If the characters barge in during working hours (the day, basically) they will be preparing meals here for the inmates:

Three female servants work to prepare a meal, clad in dingy aprons and uniforms – one is skinning a rabbit while a second chops vegetables and a third kneads dough.  They scowl at you as you enter, saying nothing.  One sniffs loudly and murmurs something unintelligible.

If combat breaks out they use kitchen knives and cleavers as weapons.

4 – Infirmary

The door to the infirmary is locked (Disable Device DC 30, Strength DC 25 to force, or use the Heart key).

This room must be the asylum’s infirmary, judging from the rolling steel trays with scalpels, bandages, and other medical supplies and the beds that line the walls.  Many of the beds are swathed in curtains, obscuring any occupants.  You can hear moaning sounds and the rattle of restraints coming from one of the obscured beds near the back of the hall.  An open door to one side leads to a stairwell winding down into the earth.

Pulling aside the curtains reveals the patient:

Pulling back the curtains, you discover a patient strapped to one of the infirmary beds.  Obviously an inmate, the man’s head has been shaved, and his body is covered in a hundreds and hundreds of zigzagging stitches.  For a moment you think the man must be covered in boils, but then you realize the round protrusions that mottle his limbs and torso are not pustules but eyes – a multitude of them in a variety of colours, some obviously culled from animals, others from humans.  The eyes rove and blink, some weeping profusely, some closed, some twitching and rolling wildly.

Sight of the “Peacock” provokes a Sanity check (1/1d4).  As the characters examine the grafted inmate Nurse Genevieve approaches them stealthily, creeping out from behind another set of curtains (Stealth +9).  If she is undetected she will plunge a syringe of tranquilizer (Fortitude DC 20 or become paralyzed for 1d3 minutes) into the neck of the nearest character.  If she is seen beforehand:

A tall, gaunt woman in a nurse’s uniform creeps towards you, a syringe in one hand, a bloodstained scalpel in the other.  She exudes a graveolent stench poorly masked by perfume.

Statistics for Nurse Genevieve are provided in the Appendix.

5 – Games Room

The stuffed heads of local wildlife – wolves, bears, stags, and boars – stare down at you from the walls of this musty games room, which looks thoroughly disused.  There are a number of dusty tables set with checkered boards or strewn with cards, some cobwebbed, rat-eaten leather chairs, and a scuffed billiards table.

6 – Guard Room

This square guard room contains a round table and chairs.  A pair of burly, pallid guards lurk here, speaking to one another in low, guttural voices.

7 – Arsenal

This room is locked (Disable Device DC 40, Strength DC 25 to force, or used the Hand Key)

This looks to be a small arsenal for the orderlies, containing dozens of straitjackets, padded armour, protective masks, orderlies’ uniforms, and batons.  There are also many fetters, shackles, manacles, and other restraints, as well as muzzles and gags.

There are 10 suits of padded armour and 20 saps in each armoury.  There is a 10% chance of finding a 6 wheelock pistols, a musket, 100 bullets, and a barrel of gunpowder as well – the Grimlocks don’t like firearms, and the Alienists discourage the use of lethal force in any event (preferring to consume still-living brains that haven’t been dashed to pieces by bullets, thank you very much).

Male Ward

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Soundtrack

This ward is fairly quiet, punctuated by occasional moans, murmurs, or the sound of rattling chains.  An orderly patrols the corridor, occasionally growling at inmates behind the bars of the ten cells that line the walls of the passage.

All doors in this area are locked (Disable Device DC 30, Strength DC 25 to force, or used the Brain Key).

In total there are 97 male inmates here.

8 – Male Cell

You peer through the bars to look into a fairly large cell which has been filled with inmates.  The men here jostle for room, clad in dirty rags or the mouldering remnants of uniforms.  As you approach they shy away, drawing back as far from the bars as they can.  Wild-eyed, thin, and filthy, the inmates look more scared and brutalized than mad, though some of them do mutter and mumble to themselves.

Some of the inmates here are quite disturbed, but a number are clinging to the shreds of sanity and can be reasoned with using a Diplomacy check (DC 25).  They naturally assume the characters are Intellect Devourers in disguise.  If released, they violently attack Orderlies and Alienists alike, but may also attack the characters.

9 – The Satyr

Unlike the other cells, only a single inmate occupies this small chamber.  He grins at you from behind the bars, leering lasciviously, and steps into the lamplight, revealing a twisted body that has been modified through surgery or magic or both: in place of feet he has large hooves, a pair of horns have been sutured to his scalp, and his eyes have been replaced with the yellow, horizontal-pupiled eyes of a goat.  He bleats horribly.

Sight of the Satyr provokes a Sanity check (0/1d4).  This poor inmate has been driven quite mad, having convinced himself he’s a faun as a coping mechanism.  He has a gore attack (+2 to attack, 1d6 damage), and will be more inclined to attack female party members.  With proper treatment he can regain his humanity.

10 – The Werewolf

Shackled to the far wall of this room is a malformed figure; at first you take him for a lycanthrope or similar creature, but then you realize the lupine body parts he possesses – the snout, tail, and paws of a wolf – have been grafted on, roughly stitched to his body.  The wretched inmate howls and barks, straining against his chains.

Sight of the Werewolf provokes a Sanity check (0/1d4).  This deranged inmate will attack any who releases him with his bite attack (+2, 1d6, plus Filth Fever).  He can be calmed with a Wild Empathy check (DC 25), and with treatment can regain his humanity.

11 – The Mob

Whatever diseased mind created this hideous agglomeration of human flesh, it could not have been human.  The bodies of a dozen inmates have been fused together, resulting in a twitching, writhing mass of limbs, heads, and torsos, moaning and skittering in the gloom.

The Mob provokes a Sanity check (1/1d6+1).  The “creature” is in no condition to fight (indeed, the Mob would have trouble even getting out of the cell), but can attack (10 attacks, +2 each, 1d4 non-lethal) if characters get too close.

Female Ward

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Soundtrack

This ward is lined with barred cells full from which you can hear the occasional whimper, groan, or shriek.

The rooms in this ward are locked (Disable Device DC 30, Strength DC 25 to force, or used the Brain Key).

In total there are 124 female inmates here.

12 – Female Cell

This cell is full of women in straitjackets or ragged uniforms, some of them obviously mentally disturbed, others clinging to what shreds of sanity they have left.  They shy away from you as you near the bars.

Some of the inmates (http://www.d20pfsrd.com/bestiary/npc-s/npc-2/prisoner-human-expert-4) here are quite disturbed, but a number are clinging to the shreds of sanity and can be reasoned with using a Diplomacy check (DC 25).  They naturally assume the characters are Intellect Devourers in disguise.  If released, they violently attack Orderlies and Alienists alike, but may also attack the characters.

13 – The Spider

At first you think this cell must be empty, but then you spot the woman clinging to the ceiling with six arms, four of them grafted to her torso through some abominable mixture of sorcery and surgery, all six equipped with some means of gripping the bare brick.  Additional eyes have been grafted to her forehead, as well, giving her the appearance of some monstrous spider.  Clearly deranged, the woman hisses and climbs into a corner of the room.

Sight of the Spider provokes a Sanity check (0/1d4).  She has the same statistics as other inmates but has six attacks and the multiattack feat.

14 – Pregnant Inmate

The woman in this cell is dressed in inmates’ garb.  Her swollen belly indicates she is in the later stages of pregnancy.

Giselle was interred some time ago for “hysteria,” before her pregnancy was known, and the Alienists have kept her pregnancy secret from her well-off merchant family, who will pay handsomely (10,000 gp) for her safe return.

The next two floors of the asylum, the attic, the basement, and the tunnels beneath will be up soon, plus player handouts and stats for important NPCs.

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