Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday 2 July 2022

Fears in the Forest

For fifteen years the Latterdyne estate has stood empty ever since the family, including two children, vanished without a trace. Behind its walls, the house has stood shuttered up against the elements whilst the surrounding grounds have been left unattended, long since overgrown and abandoned to grow wild, including extensive woods. To the locals, the estate and its mystery, the estate has become a looming presence down the lane as well as the source of much speculation. They say that the family suffered a great accident and subsequently vanished during a storm, but then no one really knows for certain, and so when the fate of the Latterdynes is discussed it is done in whispered speculation and rumour. Both are fuelled by stories of hikers and other travellers going missing on the estate. Some dismiss this as mere rumour or even embellishment to already idle speculation, but others will swear blind that such tales are true. True or not, the locals avoid the estate, though they all know of the broken wall which can be clambered over to gain easy access to the grounds. Now word of both ramblers having gone missing on the estate and the missing Latterdynes has reached the Society for Psychical Research, which has duly despatched a team to investigate the grounds of the Latterdyne estate.

This is the set-up for Sticks and Stones: A Story of Betrayal and Sorrow for the Locus Horror Tabletop Roleplaying Game. Published by CobblePath Games, this is the first scenario for Locus: A roleplaying game of personal horror, a horror roleplaying game in which the Player Characters bring as much horror to a location as they will encounter there. It is a roleplaying game about Broken Places, locations where the line between reality and the horror and emotional truth of a story has thinned to the point that they have become damaged or broken and transformed into something else. Each is or has a Genius Locus, that in becoming damaged or broken, is transformed into a Malus Locus, a bad place which feeds off negative energies and emotions. The Malus Locus draws in outsiders and residents alike, using reminders of their old wounds and bad memories to inflict fear, terror, and pain. It manifests Monsters which remind the victims trapped inside the Malus Locus of their dark secrets and feelings of guilt, and if the monster can kill them, they leave behind Echoes of their guilt that the Monster can feed off for years. Echoes are likely to be interpreted as ghosts, and when the Player Characters enter a Malus Locus, it may already be inhabited by Echoes.

A Malus Locus consists of a single location and is actually composed of layers. The location can be large or small, and might be a single house, a neighbourhood or housing block, an oil rig or space station, or even a whole town. The layers are Layers of Reality, each layer a reflection of the one above, the same but different, darker, weirder, scarier, and worse… The deeper the Player Characters venture into the Malus Locus, the further away from reality they move, the closer to the heart of the Malus Locus they get, the greater the manifestations and signs of the unreal and the Player Characters’ Haunts—or guilty secrets—appear, and the more openly the Monster will move against them. Each Layer is separate, but bleeds into the one above and the one below, though they become more and more distinct as the Player Character descends through them.

Sticks and Stones: A Story of Betrayal and Sorrow for the Locus Horror Tabletop Roleplaying Game presents one such Malus Locus, an area of woodland on the Latterdyne estate. Here the Society for Psychical Research investigators will find themselves caught between three locations in Latterdyne Dell, each connected by ever changing paths through the woods. As they explore these locations and are pulled down through the layers of the Malus Locus, the weather and the ground underfoot both worsen, the wind grows and carries strange voices, and something begins to stalk them… However, that something is not the only monster that the Player Characters will face in Sticks and Stones, as they bring their own monsters with them. Each of these four monsters is associated with the acts of betrayal committed by each of the pre-generated Player Characters, these acts and their associated monsters accentuating the horror in Sticks and Stones, making the horror all the more personal even as they confront the personification of the Malus Locus in the dell on the Latterdyne estate.

Although Sticks and Stones is intended to be played using pre-generated investigators, and to that end comes with its own quartet of partially pre-generated Player Characters. The four—the Custodian, the Dilettante, the Fabricator, and the Sleuth all have their own goals, base attributes, haunts, virtues, and more, including base backstories, virtues, and items. Each player is then free to assign further attribute points and answer some questions in order to customise the character to his liking. Notes are included should a player want to create a character of his own from scratch, but ideally, Sticks and Stones should be run and played using the given quartet.

As well as a starting script and a handout or two, Sticks and Stones comes with details of and clues for its primary mysteries—the fate of the Latterdynes and what is exactly going on in the Latterdyne Dell—and suggestions as to how the events of the scenario might play out… lastly, the scenario also includes the cards for its characters, items, and monsters. They are perhaps somewhat fuzzy and it would probably better for the Game Master to download and print them out. If there is perhaps an issue with the scenario, it is that the set-up of the scenario could have been stronger and easier to present to the players and their characters—essentially how they get involved. It is fine once they reach the Latterdyne estate, but the Game master will need to put something together herself.

Physically, Sticks and Stones is grey and dreary. That though is entirely keeping with the tone of the scenario and the terribly British weather that the Player Character will face as they delve deeper and deeper into the mysteries of what happened on the Latterdyne estate. Barring the cards for its characters, items, and monsters, Sticks and Stones is nicely illustrated with photographs that hint at the ombrophobic and the Xylophobic, imparting a sense of the unease which will grow and grow over the course of the scenario.

Sticks and Stones: A Story of Betrayal and Sorrow for the Locus Horror Tabletop Roleplaying Game contains everything necessary for the Player Characters to bring their own horrors to the woods and get lost in the horrors already there…

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