Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Actual Play: The Horror at the Lighthouse (part 2)

When we last left our heroes they were about to meet their host for the evening...

The Doll went upstairs to fetch her creator, Dr. Hesselius Reichmann, which gave the characters enough time to replace all the stuff they had pocketed from his cabinet of curiosities. When the doctor descended the stairs from the upper floors of the lighthouse it was discovered that he was a stout, balding man of middle years with a black beard flecked with white. His physique showed the signs of having once been powerful, but had since been wasted by calamity or disease; his mortal frame was encased in a clockwork brace that allowed him to walk.

Far from being threatening, the Doctor offered the characters shelter in his lighthouse and set the Doll to work making them a hot meal. When asked about his life, he revealed that his body had been ruined by a supernatural cataclysm, and that his wife had been left in a comatose state by the disaster as well (1). Dr. Hesselius claimed that he had retreated from the world in the wake of this personal tragedy and taken up residence in the lighthouse so as to have an isolated haven in which to attempt to revive his wife through science and alchemy. He also explained that the clockwork crabs were his creations and acted as sentries on the island; he apologized for any inconvenience they may have caused the shipwreck survivors.

Much like the party, Reichmann took an instant dislike to the haughty empty-headedness of Martinus di Rosalba. Rosalba's obvious life of leisure and casual disregard for the pain of others rubbed this haunted man the wrong way.

However, not all was well with Dr. Hesselius. As Kahl discovered, Reichmann was clearly lying about the lighthouse's lantern. Although he claimed that the light was badly aimed because he lacked the proper materials to make it function correctly, his body language (and obvious technological resources) betrayed him on this point (2).

And yet, there was no where else to go on this horrific night, so the party took Reichmann up on his offer of a place to sleep for the evening. After they had eaten and talked, Dr. Hesselius led the party to the next floor where they were invited to bunk down. The room was dusty and disused. From the pink and yellow patterned wallpaper, this room was clearly meant to be used as a nursery, but was for an old cradle standing in the middle of the room that no one wanted to comment on (3).

Unused to sleeping rough on the floor, Martinus demanded a proper bed to sleep in. Reichmann led him up a further flight of stairs to his wife's bedroom, and then went further up to seek his own quarters. Wary of the Doctor's motives, the party wisely decided to sleep in shifts. During the first watch, a man's scream was heard upstairs.

Something was happening to Martinus. A quick check of the bedroom that the fop had been led to disclosed that he had slept in the bed, but no longer occupied it. Before venturing up the stairs to investigate, Herman decided to check downstairs to make sure that Martinus hadn't fled in that direction while the others suited up for potential trouble. Herman came face to face again with the Doll, and had a rather disturbing conversation with her in which she stated, nonchalantly, "I have meat inside me." The Doll acquiesced to a palpitation of her person, which revealed that somewhere within her artificial body beat a live human heart (4).

This is where the party's first moral quandary presented itself: Martinus was clearly a bit of a shit, but was it right to let an unwholesome fate befall him if it could be helped? It was decided that he was one of them, even if he was useless and craven. Up the stairs, then, and into the fray. The floor above the wife's room proved to be Dr. Hesselius's living quarters and laboratory. Fantastic and obscure machinery whirred, flasks of unknown chemicals burbled and boiled, and arcs of lightning leaped between arcane devices. Before the party lay two tables. On one, Martinus was bound and gagged, machinery poised to pierce his body for nefarious purposes. On the other lay a glass coffin containing the body of a pregnant woman--Jacine Reichmann, the catatonic wife of Doctor Hesselius (5).

Here, Hesselius's Reichmann's evil was unveiled: he was using the treacherous lighthouse wreck ships upon the reefs in hopes that survivors would come be used in the hellish experiments that he believed would restore his beloved wife to him.

But how to stop this evil, and was Martinus worth saving?

(1) - Both Dr. Hesselius and his wife were victims of diabolic intervention.

(2) - An excellent Insight check blew right through the Doctor's deception.

(3) - This floor riffed on Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-paper," and also about a hundred other Victorian-era ghost stories that I've read. Never underestimate the power of a room empty save an abandoned cradle.

(4) - The "I have meat inside me" bit was ad-libbed in the moment. In retrospect, I'm glad no one attacked the Doll during the adventure as over the course of the game I really came to appreciate what she was adding to the adventure. She was a note of uncertainty for much of the game; she never did anything forceful or aggressive towards the characters, but her seeming loyalty to Hesselius made her an unknown factor in how things might play out.

(5) - I knew I was drawing on something here for the whole "wife in glass coffin waiting to be revived," but I couldn't quite place it. One of the players figured it out afterward: I was referencing The Abominable Dr. Phibes without realizing it.