Today we continue our investigation of the Haunted Mansion (one of Heroic Maps’ Halloween offerings) and enter one of the other key rooms of the first floor… the dining room.
Like the drawing room we focused on a couple of days ago, this is another important area on this level. Three doors and a stairwell serve as entrances and exits. And there is plenty of light and heat from the fireplace, two big windows, and from candles on the table itself. With seating for eight and generous table area, I can see this being just as busy as the front room for entertaining and other important gatherings.
Beyond the table and chairs, fireplace, and suit of armor in one corner, it’s obvious that the focus of the room is the meal… though with the impressive array of cobwebs it’s also obvious that no meals have been eaten here in quite a while. But what’s the story here? With two plates and a platter left at one end of the table, it suggests a lonely, empty house at the last – perhaps the empty nest of an aging couple nearing the end… or perhaps just an aging crone and her handmaiden. That works even better.
This room was a private place for these two women in the end. A place where they could sit and be as equals in a society where servants and masters simply did not do such things. Plus, this room didn’t have the pall of death over it like the drawing room. There was the beginning of the end – where the crone’s husband died tragically over a misunderstanding involving another woman.
It becomes clear now. This is the house of a family torn apart by tragedy. A tragedy that now soaks every room in blood and sadness. Madame Odette Duvard and her husband David were pillars of the community once and their home a social hub while their children were home. But slowly that happy family was whittled away by accident, war, and deaths in childbirth until only the oldest Duvards were left.
One of the final straws that led to the evil in the house today was the misunderstanding that took David’s life. David, old and wise, was consulted by a young friend of the family over some business dealings. Young, enterprising Amelia “Melia” Brown was attempting to strike out with a clothes-making business of her own. She asked Mr. Duvard for advice and potentially some startup capital. David was a trusted figure in her life and one whom she respected. Her fiancee on the other hand was not so rational…
Young, brash Lieutenant Ballard Vance, upon hearing of Melia’s association with this old codger flew into a rage. Odette was away visiting friends (her handmaiden in tow) when Vance came to the Duvard door demanding entrance. When the door didn’t open immediately, he began to hack at it with his hand axe (causing the damage the PCs saw early on). When David finally let him in, he invited Vance into the drawing room where they could discuss whatever was bothering him. The elder man tried explaining what was going on with Melia, but the younger man was beyond reason. He slashed David’s throat and watched him bleed to death on the floor before coming to his senses. He covered the body with the bearskin rug and fled the scene, dropping blood from the axe all the way back to the front door…
When Mrs. Duvard and her maid came home a few days later, they discovered her husband’s body in the front room and called the authorities. There were no clues to be found and Vance had spirited himself and Melia out of the city (eloping and missing their big wedding) to avoid suspicion. We will get back to Odette later, but suffice it to say she was not unaffected by the death of her husband. She and her maid explored many ways of scrying the identity of the killer to find justice for his murder. And she may yet see her success.
For this map, I’m beginning to see two key conflicts in the map that are starting to develop. Both the attic and the basement likely hold secrets that can end the haunted curse. The main floor is all about telling the story to the players in a few glimpses. The other floors are about taking the story to a logical end. One may involve confronting the evil in the house directly. The other may be about finding a way to “release” the curse in a less destructive way.
Haunted houses are all about the echoes of happy, sad, and traumatic times lived inside the home. Those memories are absorbed and repeated over and over, feeding on the energy of any spirits locked within and any energy taken from the living who may cross the threshold. So how do we harness those memories in this case?
As a result, I think we can show a few ghostly visions to the PCs to express parts of the story like we did in the dark corridor we explored yesterday. Another random table to the rescue (D4) for when the PCs enter the room (each time they should see a different memory):
- Spectral images appear around the table of an entire clan happily feasting and discussing the day’s events.
- A single candle lights a dour meal shared by an elderly lady and her middle-aged maid.
- Two figures, an older couple, are sharing an intimate meal by candlelight. They huddle close, all smiles and sharing a quiet laugh over a quiet comment.
- A middle-aged lady is clearing the table after a meal, but pauses to draw an intricate circle with symbols in chalk on the table and burning some of the leftovers as an offering of some sort.
The goal here isn’t to give a complete picture to the PCs, but glimpses so they can form their own ideas. But with this one room, in addition to the few random details we’ve come up with so far from the front door until now, we’re starting to see a story form. Without those details (or different details), I may not have come to see this particular story form.
Looking for other ideas in this challenge? Check out the 31 Days of Halloween category!