The Roxbury House

The House in Roxbury, Vermont. Photo by A. Liptak

The Roxbury House — or just “The House,” as it’s called by those investigators most intimately familiar with the strange goings-on documented over the decades on its grounds — is supposedly located somewhere in central Vermont. Not Roxbury, itself, of course; that would make the house too easy to find. But somewhere around there, up a disused track, shrouded in a stand of old growth forest, or down in a hollow in the rolling, ancient Green Mountains, is the House.

Judging by its outward appearance, the Roxbury House would fit seamlessly into any B grade movie filled with ghosts, spooks and poltergeists. Any of the half dozen or investigators privileged enough to have studied the structure and its phenomena, though, will assure you that whatever’s going on here, it has nothing to do with the dearly departed.

No flying crockery or slamming doors plague the House’s residents. They do, however, have a near-constant reminder that their home is shared otherworldly residents. Any time between sunset and sunrise, an observer can catch sight of shadowy silhouettes, two dimensional but seemingly floating through mid-air without an object nearby to cast a shadow. The Roxbury House has possibly the most perfectly aligned case of shadow people ever recorded.

One of the typical characteristics of a shadow person sighting is the apparition doesn’t line up with our world, as it were. Figures pass through walls as though the wall didn’t exist, suggesting that if this silhouette were a real entity as we understand the term “real,” it might be living in a physical world overlapping with our own in such a way that we can see the entity’s shadow, but not the inanimate matter around it.

In the House, however, the movements of the shadow people line up perfectly with the doors, walls and windows. They stroll down the hallways, climb the stairs and even putter in the kitchen with a disturbing similarity to flesh and blood and humans, barring their two dimensionality, insubstantiality and, of course, attendant cold spot phenomena.

The shadow people inhabiting the House are always accompanied by cold spots, zones of inexplicable chill that move with them around the House. Regardless of the local temperature, whether the wood stove is lit or not, a shadow person is always significantly cooler, by twenty or more degrees. Touching the silhouette of a shadow person is always a shock, but usually one has warning that it approaches, as the local temperature gradually cools. A shadow person almost seems to absorb heat as it moves around the House. Even in the day time, when shadow people aren’t normally visible, the rise and fall of temperatures seemingly at random — although they have their own morning and evening routines, which fall into that realm of odd comfort other haunted residents experience; “Oh, that was George the ghost slamming the toilet lid” — can be more eerie than seeing the shadow person outright in the dark hours.
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Nonchalant Gnome Society Seeks New Members

Playing Gloom at the United Way of the Adirondacks.

The Nonchalant Gnome Gaming Society, based around Plattsburgh, New York, is looking for expand their ranks — and they’re getting some ink about it, like an article in the Press Republican on October 20th:

The gamers are actively trying to recruit new members these days. They said they are “very happy to teach” any newcomers.

They said they welcome players of all abilities, too.

“Most of the games are new to us,” Henry said. “We are collectors who buy games periodically when we hear about them. You learn as you go.”

The article also mentions they intend to hold some play in public events, which I theorize comes from the blog Seize Your Turn‘s same-named Play in Public campaign. If you have any gaming friends in the Plattsburgh area, let them know about the Nonchalant Gnome Gaming Society.

[Reposted from Green Mountain Gamers.]

Arkham Horror Add-ons from Litko Game Accessories

From the Litko Games Accessories online catalog.

Arkham Horror is a bit-tacular game to start with. Lots of cards, tokens, character sheets and more. But sometimes the form factor of those pieces get in the way of playing the game. Monster and gate tokens, for instance, lie flat. On a board that’s already graphically busy, it’s very easy to miss spotting a monster, elder sign marker or even a whole gate. This is something I’ve learned repeatedly in my play experiences with the game, particularly after the third hour begins.

Among the more craft-minded fans of the game, there have been a number of homebrew solutions to this issue, propping up monsters and gates in stands to make them pop out from the underlying board. Now, thanks to Litko Game Accessories, you don’t have to be crafty — or settle for bent paperclips — to enjoy a similar sort of convenience. Litko offers gate and monster stands in two different designs and colors, respectively, plus full-sized elder sign tokens.

They’re very nice looking, just going by the catalog shots. My first gut reaction was “WANT!” which is atypical for me. Q Workshop’s fancy-pants dice didn’t garner that response from me. Part of it is these stands would actually help play the game, making it easier to count how many monsters and gates are on the board. Not so much the tentacle gate stands, though. It looks like they obscure the gate modifier, dimensional symbol and the additional modifier icons introduced by The Lurker at the Threshold.

It’s a pricey upgrade, though. Just in the base game, without any expansions, there can be seven gates open at once and eleven monsters on the board, not withstanding when topping the terror track removes the monster limit. That’s at the extreme ends of the spectrum, in two and eight player games, respectively. Since Litko sells the gate markers in sets of six at $25 each and monster stands in sets of eight for $12. Just to cover one’s bases with the original game, without worrying about the expansion boards, where monsters can run free and wild without a limit on their numbers, would $74, for two sets of gate and monster stands each to have as many as might be required in the course of a game.

I can see myself putting out for monster stands one of these days, when I’ve got some mad money. The gate stands, though, even the wrought iron ones, which are pretty amazing, are more than a little out of my comfort zone for luxury accessories.

Betrayal at House on the Hill is Literally Warped

Either these tiles are warped or they each have their own individual space-time dilation effect.

I didn’t really think about it while punching the tokens, but I did notice at the time that many of the tiles in the new edition of Betrayal at House on the Hill began to warp upon tearing open the shrinkwrap, especially the character tiles, pictured right.

It wasn’t until I saw the thread on Boardgamegeek discussing the extent to which some people’s copies are warping, both cardboard tiles and some plastic figures  — the blue figure has been nicknamed “Ilene Back” by some owners. Check out this post in particular for a photo of a particularly bowed example of the starting tile.

Given this game was ultimately published by Wizards of the Coast, I’m surprised that such a widespread issue like this would slip through. It sounds like the whole print run was affected, which suggests they decided it was more cost effective not to do anything about it and deal with unhappy customers than fix the warping issue. In light of some of their recent board game products, particularly Castle Ravenloft, which seemed like a solid home run in terms of a well-made game, it’s surprising that Betrayal at House on the Hill would turn out like this.

Or is it? Betrayal had some factors working against it: the first edition sold horribly in stores; it was reportedly on clearance for a pittance in Wizards of the Coast’s retail stores for a long time before it gathered a cult following that drove up secondhand prices. Nor is it attached to a high profile intellectual property like Dungeons & Dragons as Castle Ravenloft is. I can imagine both those considerations leading to a situation where not only did this problem slip through the production process unnoticed, but the decision to handle the problem by replacing warped components as requested — with tiles from the same print run, mind, so they’re equally likely to warp.

I have elected to take this opportunity to explore the customer service process. I wrote Wizards a letter expressing my disappointment in the apparent lack of quality control, sending a copy via their email contact form, as well printing it out to send via traditional mail. Within fifteen minutes, I received a reply from a weekend customer service representative . . . seemingly didn’t read my letter very closely, as it included all the information requested in the reply. Less than two hours later, I had an email saying a replacement set of tiles would be sent out promptly.

The letter hit the mail box Saturday evening. As I wend my way through this replacement process, I’ll keep you updated as to how it goes — and how far it goes, as I’m not going to settle for a second warped set of tiles. Just you wait.

[Tuesday Night Board Games] Betrayal at House on the Hill, Second Edition

Comes the Hero . . . way too late to save Munk and Nonny from John the traitor (left).

I rhapsodized about a couple times Betrayal at House on the Hill before the second edition was announced. So I don’t think it surprises anyone that as soon as I acquired a copy of my own — after having put the contents on display for the world to see; more about that later, too — it hit the table at Tuesday night board games at Quarterstaff Games.

An Invisible Traitor stalked her prey for an hour and a half.

This night, I only got one and a half games in, as I ducked out to see some friends perform up the street in a singer-songwriter competition. There’s really nothing spectacularly different about the second edition of Betrayal at House on the Hill. The graphic elements are mostly unchanged; the doors seem to be a brighter shade of yellow, probably to aid people picking them out from the backdrop of the rooms.

The gameplay is also very much like what I’m used to. Before this second edition hit, we played with Alex’s copy, for which he printed out the rather extensive errata document that Wizards of the Coast published after the game was initially released and sharp-minded players started finding the flaws and omissions in the published rules and haunt scenarios. We still found some points of uncertainty, which might have been cleared up in the glossary in the back of the book that I haven’t read thoroughly yet, like do Omens that are physical objects count as Items? Last night, we assumed that they did.

I can’t say much about the sessions of Betrayal themselves, as I’m kind of fanatical about not spoiling haunts before others have played them. The first ended a lot more quickly than the second, but I think that was as much the heroes of the first haunt having no luck at all finding any of the items required to win as the traitor of the second game starting off with cool gear in addition to a pretty significant advantage over the heroes.

In other news, Patrick from Asmodee Games visited us, which was pretty cool. As Andrew recounts, he taught three games: Intrigo, Gosu and Water Lilies. I didn’t get the chance to find out what brought Patrick down from Montreal, but getting a visitor like that is pretty cool.

DriveThruRPG Bundle to Benefit Pakistan Flood Relief

Click through to purchase the Pakistan flood relief PDF bundle.

In the wake of the devastating monsoons that left 2,000 dead in Pakistan, is offering another PDF bundle to benefit Doctors Without Borders. They say:

Record monsoon rains caused flooding that left almost 2,000 people dead and 20 million homeless. Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani estimates crop losses at $3.3 billion, total damage of about $7 billion. People displaced by the flooding that began at the end of July are still living in temporary shelters, such as schools, or in tents. Doctors Without Borders continues to provide medical care, clean water, and relief materials.

Following the success of our previous fundraisers for DWB during the Haiti Earthquake Reponse we have decided to put together a new charity effort to raise funds for relief efforts in Pakistan. Several publishers have donated some very cool items to help us raise funds for Doctors Without Borders. The bundle will be available until 10:00 AM EST, Monday, October 25th.

According to another page on the DriveThruRPG site, the previous charity bundle raised a staggering $175,000 for Haitian earthquake relief. As of the writing of this post, DriveThruRPG had already passed the $2,600 mark.

The Pakistan Flood Relief bundle is on sale until the morning of October 25th, Eastern standard. Get it while you can!

Unboxing Betrayal at House on the Hill, Held Action Edition

Deciding to try my own hand at documenting the unboxing of an eagerly anticipated game, I present the story of my thoughts as I cracked open the second edition of Betrayal at House on the Hill, as record last Wednesday, no more than an hour after acquiring the game. Check out the pictures behind the jump.

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Gold: The DVD That Does Double Damage

The Gold DVD is now available for purchase through the official store.

Gold, tagline “the web series that does double damage,” is, depending on how you look at it, a comedy series, a cutting satire, a dramedy or even an exploration of what the world would be life if role-playing were a professional sport. It is also now out on DVD in a remastered presentation that also includes commentary tracks from the cast and crew. David Nett, executive producer of Gold, was kind enough to send me a review copy of the special edition to share with you all.

The first season of the series follows the members of the American team’s preparations for the World Goblins & Gold Role Playing Game Championship. The former leader of the Americans, Jonathan Drake, struggles to recover from an emotionally scarring incident during the semi-finals, while the team founders under the questionable training tactics of self-absorbed cad Richard Wright. Meanwhile, the rival British role-players have their own plans in motion to secure the gold in the tournament.

I followed Gold‘s starting about early 2009, a few episodes into its premiere release schedule. The series caught my attention then with its high production values, quirky premise — in essence, “what happens when role-players are exalted on the level of professional athletes?” — and best of all, straight-faced storytelling. Gold‘s a comedy, to be sure, but the laughs come from the absurdity of the situation when put in contrast with the sincerity of the characters. In that, it’s the same style of comedy you’ll find in a Ghostbusters or a This is Spinal Tap, where the characters remain earnest and believable throughout the story. That won me to Gold right away; the creators trusted their audience enough not to nod, wink and nudge their way through the season. They played the humor — and drama — straight instead of camping it up, making for a very satisfying series.

The DVD special edition of Gold is no less eye-catching than the show itself. The packaging looks every bit as professional as any DVD you might find on the shelves of your local media purveyor. And inside, there was even a couple feelies, a behind the scenes still from production and character Richard Wright’s card from the Gold Character Card Game, which is an actual factual game you can play, and no mere artifact from the universe of the series, as I first presumed.

On the disc itself, in addition to the prologue and six episodes of season one of Gold, you’ll find two sets of commentary tracks covering all seven parts of season one. The first track is with cast members, while the second is with the crew. As in any small production, the camaraderie that formed among the commentators shines through, making both tracks just as interesting and engaging as the series itself in their way. Other nifty features include a minisode, Palace of the Silver Princess, and a thank you from the cast and crew to donors, which is really touching, to see such a visible show of gratitude from creators to the people who made their DVD happen.

Combining the straight-faced absurdity of mockumentaries with the wry, self-reflexive perspective of creators who are hip deep in the role-playing hobby and love every bit of it, from critical hits to the funny little quirks and traditions of the players themselves, the first season of Gold is a solid success. It has real characters, drama and laughs. I can’t wait for the next season to begin streaming, whenever that may be.

The first season of Gold, including the teaser, trailer and prologue, is available for streaming from the series’ website, in addition to the DVD now up for sale in the official web store for $20 plus shipping, in addition to lots of other cool tidbits.

Additionally, I also happen to know that Gold‘s first season will screen in its entirety, prologue to final cliffhanger, at Carnage the 13th in Fairlee, Vermont, Saturday, November 6th at 11:30 PM. As the evening slot officially wraps up at 11:00, it’ll be a nice way to wind down from a hard day of gaming.

The Fall and Wished For Rise of Role-Playing in My Life

I haven’t much written much about role-playing games lately. That is a shame. There are several overlapping reasons why that is.

  1. I haven’t played many role-playing games lately. It’s true. There was Fiasco at Fall-loha, about which I do want to write, as well as the non-experience of Shab-al-Hiri Roach, and before that was the first session of a fantasy campaign I joined that hasn’t met since.
  2. Writing about board games is easier. A lot easier. Not just because I play them more often than role-playing games, so they dominate my headspace and I have play sessions to comment on, but there’s usually something fresh to talk about. With role-playing games, there’s nothing on the market that’s caught my eye, so I have all the same old stuff to talk about, which becomes tedious. I’ve had a number of draft posts going for almost a year now I don’t want to touch because I really don’t care about the topics in question anymore.
  3. The precipitous decline in my appetite for reading. For whatever reason — I blame the instant gratification of browsing the web and social media — my inclination to sit down and read a book has dropped alarmingly. I didn’t read by the lake at all this summer. My “to read” pile of fiction alone has almost two dozen titles. There are probably three dozen role-playing books I’ve “meant to get to” for years now. This is why Read ‘Em ‘Cause You Got ‘Em has languished so long.
  4. I’d rather be doing real stuff. Blogging is fun, but it very rarely feels productive in any sense beyond sharing one’s mind. So, tying back to point one, it’s easier to dash off a post about a board game I played that week rather, then go on to something more immediately useful or interesting than making up an NPC, for instance, or generating plot seeds I’ll never get to use.
  5. Other gaming-related efforts have my attention. Carnage is ramping up, for which I still need to write my Ghostbusters adventure, in addition to helping with all the staff prep work. I’ve also set myself the task of having an improved version of the Green Mountain Gamers site up and running to debut for post-Carnage, first-time visitors.

Writing less is not the solution. I want to keep Held Action going at three posts a week as a personal goal of being productive in a hobby, in a way that role-playing itself isn’t for me right now. I’d like to tell myself I’ll have more time this winter for indoor activities like reading, but I can easily envision frittering away that indoor time tinkering with web sites or even putting to more productive and immediately gratifying, but not role-playing related activities.

The real solution would be to set aside time in my week for role-playing stuff: reading a book, creating a character, something like that. To that end, I have decided to experiment with making Monday evening into RPG Night. Nothing in my personal life ever happens on a Monday, so I’m usually just hanging around, surfing the web. I even created an email reminder set to ding at 8:00 PM, so I don’t forget. This week, I sat down with Fiasco and read. I’ll let you know how it went.