This Horror Within Me Burns

Our game this week is This Heart Within Me Burns by Sam Dunnewold on the StorySynth engine in which we adventurers confront a curse and journey to seek a cure. We are Alada, a young traveler who adventures to see the world; Baylee, a farmer’s son who set out to support his family and earn their love; and Maris, a sailor and gambler who adventures to get out from under crushing debts. At the end of our last adventure, Baylee was cursed and now the veil between our world and the nether realms is weakening, seeping through into our world wherever he goes. Periodically, especially if he stays in one place too long, horrors enter our world and threaten our lives. We must travel to the temple known as the House of Empty Goddess seeking a cure, a ritual to remove the curse.

Cover of This Heart Within Me Burns showing a red heart aflame.
Cover image for This Heart Within Me Burns from Story Synth.

Our journey begins with Alada thinking of the promise Baylee made to keep her secrets, fearful about losing her friend, and what that will mean for her future. Maris thinks of the sea monsters she has seen and shudders to think how they pale in horror to the things that creep out from the nether realms. Baylee wishes he had some protection from them, but is too distrustful of magic to ask for wards to be cast upon him. When we encounter another traveler, Maris collects clams to serve him, but after eating, the traveler quickly departs, muttering about how creepy we are, words that disturb and worry Maris. While Baylee appreciates the protection and care his companions offer, he remains dedicated to his family above all else, so he is resistant when Maris leads them to the temple and away from his family. Maris convinces him that Baylee would be endangering his family in his current state, and so they head directly north toward the House of the Empty Goddess. Alada is relieved because she sees how corrupted and frightening Baylee’s appearance has become as the nether realms suffuse his soul, leaving him blackened and shadowed at all hours of the day.

Maris delays us for a few days in a seaside town, gambling with the locals, winning away sea treasures for herself. Baylee recalls the night he spent before reuniting with Alada and Maris before our last adventure, asleep in that room above the tavern, excitedly anticipating the day to come. He also recalls how this time, they never went to the tavern for their celebratory drink, and he never got the chance to send anything home through the moneychangers. On the third day at the seaside, a malevolent squid monster emerges from the sea, reminding us that to stay in one place with this curse means death. Alada can hardly believe how much faith Baylee has that the cure will come, as she begins to succumb to despair, fearing our quest is impossible. Perhaps the trip won’t be wasted if she can receive a blessing from Empty Goddess, but she’s disturbed when Maris confesses seeing glimpses of the nether realms through a haze behind Baylee.

As they approach the temple, Baylee is feeling the loss of the years away from his family that he’s spent adventuring, and fears most of all losing himself and his loved ones. Alada fears the curse will overcome Baylee and she will lose her friend. Maris believes they will lift the curse at the temple, but fears the horrors may be unleashed upon us all. A priestess greets them at the temple and takes Baylee inside, leaving Alada and Maris to camp outside, waiting. And they must wait a month before the priestess again emerges with Baylee, who now is shaved bare and wearing white robes. He seems disoriented and naive, like a newborn child, and doesn’t remember them very well. While Alada misses the friend who was, Maris is just happy he is free, and we begin the journey to return Baylee to his family.

Final Haunted Girl

This week, we played The Final Girl by Bret Gillan in which we played a group staying overnight at a haunted house to win a radio contest. Whoever is still in the house come 7am will win $10,000, with questions about the house used as tiebreakers if more than one lasts. Our cast includes Mavis, the naive mystery lover; Lind, a barber who acts spontaneously; Fiona, a pushy real estate agent; Toolman Todd, an upbeat handyman; Dyna, video gamer and cynic; Bob, a true believer in the paranormal; Mara, a stereotypically timid librarian; Veronica, sceptic and realist; Heidi, a bodybuilder; Powell, a fastidious cashier; Jim, an upstanding local college athlete; and representing the station, snarky radio DJ, Ragin Rick.

Our story begins with Rick welcoming the contestants in the house’s ballroom for a quick cocktail hour at which Rick messes with Mavis, Heidi, and Bob and Bob & Mavis make a connection through their shared belief. In the foyer, near a pair of massive staircases and a large fireplace, Dyna and Mara almost connect through their shared Mario Bros. ringtone. Mara apologizes to everyone, but Lind spends his time antagonizes Veronica and Dyna. In the backyard garden, Fiona and Todd discuss what it would take to restore this house if she were going to sell it. Powell joins them outside to escape her dust allergies, and Jim impresses Fiona with his forthrightness. Later, Mara and Powell go upstairs and find a library. As they try to open the window to let in some air, the dust begins to swirl into a small dervish that surrounds the two until their lungs fill with dust. At last, they collapse dead on the floor.

Jim, Todd, and Heidi are exploring the conservatory when a garden hose snakes around Jim’s leg, but he wrestles himself free. A large piece of the roof falls in, smashing Todd as glass shards impale him. A rake flies off the wall at Heidi, who sidesteps just in time. A pair of garden gloves crawl up Jim’s back and begin choking him; as he tries to rip them off, they snap his neck. Heidi manages to escape and goes to warn everyone else. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Veronica is interrogating Rick about what tricks the station has planned for them, but he insists the house is haunted, pointing out its history of death and fear. As they talk, old rusted kitchen knives come flying off the wall at each of them but embed in the wall, and cast iron pots come crashing down but miss Rick. As Veronica heads for the door, a pipe bursts through the floor, causing her to slip and smash her head on the tile floor. Rick also slips on the floor but luckily falls forward and slides out of the kitchen. Another group in the foyer hear a scream and wonder if it’s a special effect. Dyna and Mavis head out of the room to check it out, leaving Fiona and Lind near the fireplace. A massive flame comes flying out of the fireplace, singeing Fiona and Lind as they step away. As Dyna and Mavis cross the room, they begin to sink into the carpet, which is slowly sucking them inside until they’re gone and the carpet returns to normal.

Lind, Rick, Heidi, and Bob gather upstairs in the children’s room. Bob is fascinated by all the happenings, closely watches a crayon writing on the wall, and is almost killed when a rocket ship falls from the ceiling. Scissors come flying at Lind’s neck but misses him. Sweaters come flying out the closet, wrapping around Rick, but he balls them up and throws them onto the floor. The sweaters form up into an animated scarecrow and go after Heidi, who grabs a hobbyhorse to smash them before they get to her. The broken horse gallops after Bob, using its teeth to rip his throat out. As Lind watches what is happening to Bob, the horse’s rockers fly up and stab him.

Rick, Heidi, and Fiona gather in a poolroom, trying to find an exit. As they cross the room, a huge water spout flies up from the floor. It sucks up Fiona and flings her across the room, but she rises, coughing out the water. It goes after Rick too but collapses as it gets too far from the pool. A tarp attacks Heidi, but she catches and balls it up before it can get her. It grabs at Fiona and pulls her into the water. She swims to the edge and slips away as the water turns its attention to Rick; a wave grabs him, pulls him to the bottom and crushes him. The pool’s lane divider wraps around Heidi, tightening as she struggles until she can’t breathe. As another wave comes for her one last time, Fiona holds up her cross while reciting the Lord’s Prayer, louder and louder, and the wave collapses and the room turning silent. Fiona runs out of the house into the street, where she gets in her car and drives away.

Dawn of the Glitter Invasion

This week we played Dawn of the Monster Invasion by Randy Lubin on his storysynth engine. Our story centered around the arrival of sugar zombies, who crave and consume the sugar from people’s bodies.

Our story begins with a little known chemical researcher at a conference presenting his discovery of high levels of ambient glucose outside plastic factories throughout the United States. Many of his colleagues fail to see the significance and wonder why it would be worth wasting research dollars to follow this trail. Glucose is benign, they say, despite the rodents and flora around the plants growing profusely. Next we have YouTube glitter-expert Glitter Gilda on a livestream when her crew became enraged and went after each other during a routine stunt shoot. As she is on-screen responding to her fans comments, she begins to crave soda and there appears to be shimmer etches across her skin as she scratches herself obsessively.

Hand drawn pictures of some characters from our game.

At a new conference, the military commander of the states national guard response team tries to allay the fears of the public. Despite the eyewitnesses who’ve reported seeing an undead killer at the scenes of now up to 7 fatal attacks, the commander insists they have everything under control. They are unable or unwilling to answer the many questions about the glitter rashes and glitter bombs appearing everywhere, or of the sugar cravings that have left candy aisles bare. To capitalize on the sweets shortage, the wealthy owner of Whamo! candy ignores government warnings against consuming excessive sugar to announce a hiring surge at his factory to try to meet demand. Audience members seem more interested in getting their hands on some chocolate than on his announcement.

Late one night, Dr. Roberts from FEMA goes onto the radio in Buffalo, the epicenter of the crisis, to explain that the rumors are true. The government is suppressing information about the infection spreading through the country, an infection that starts with sugar cravings through glitter rashes to the rages in which the infected attack each other and people. He warns that sugar feeds the infection and calls for volunteers to come to his lab in Buffalo for his experimental treatment that seems to arrest the progress of the infection. An online sugar advocate creates counter-programming against Dr. Roberts, arguing that he is trying to trick them, a puppet of big vegetable. You should not fear and enjoy your candy, “Buy Whamo!”

Our story ends with a new video from Glitter Glinda with an impassioned plea for acceptance of the glitterati, those who were infected but who, with regular treatments, are able to live normal lives, free of the savage rages that characterized the infected during the crisis. She even volunteers to lead glitterati to work along the barricades that wall what’s left of society from the wastelands that could not be recovered from the sugar zombies. The glitterati are going on a Glitter Tour with Dr. Roberts to entertain with their glitter powers and talk about the role they can now play in our society.

Truth & Daring & Moths

This week, we played a spooky session of Truth & Daring by Tim & Kristin Devine of Dice Up Games. We’re all sixth graders and members of the Explorers, a club we formed to encourage us each to “Blaze a trail!” We use an old, rusted out van at the edge of the woods outside town as our clubhouse. The group includes Cat a daredevil and actor who never goes anywhere without her Swiss army knife; Kyle a brainy kid who loves climbing and geology and carries ropes, pulleys, and a compass in his oversized backpack; Fronto a wannabe athlete whose two left feet have kept them off every team they’ve tried out for; and the new kid in school, Agatha, who is timid and has been homeschooled and sheltered by her parents.

Artists impression of the Mothman
Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Our story begins with Kyle and Fronto talking about this crazy prank that someone pulled at school with all the sports equipment thrown all over the gym. Agatha is lurking nearby but doesn’t approach until Cat shows up and drags her into the group, and we convince her to join us at our clubhouse. At the clubhouse, Cat is talking about the Mothman that her brother saw off Route 29, and we all agree to pretend to be staying over at each other’s houses but to go camping out to look for the mysterious Mothman. Agatha thinks it’s all talk until the group shows up on Friday and drags her into the woods. We’re all hanging out around the fire and talking when someone spots the distinctive glowing red eyes of the Mothman, but it flies off, and we’re unable to find it again.

The next week, we’re staking out the school trying to catch whoever is pulling the pranks that have continued at school, but instead we spy the Mothman breaking in through the back entrance. We follow him as he tears through the school until he gets to Mr. Harper’s science lab and see him struggling to get into the mineral display case. We offer to help him and give him paper to draw what he wants, a stone. Laying out the stones from the case, he takes the slab with fern fossils on it then turns to leave, gesturing to us to follow. He leads us to an abandoned factory where there is a kind of lab set up. The Mothman places the slab into an apparatus, hooks it to electrodes, and flips some switches, causing a cascade of lasers to begin firing at the slab. Quickly the lasers chip away at the outer layer of the slab, revealing a crystal inside that refracts the light around the room into a series of carefully placed mirrors that converge upon the Mothman.

We watch the Mothman transform before our eyes into a human woman, who introduces herself as entomologist Dr. Robins and explains how her experiments with moths backfired and accidentally transformed her. Not long after, back at school, Dr. Robins becomes our new science teacher, and some of us have questions about whether we might want to conduct those experiments again.

After the World Drowned

In this week’s game, we played After the World Drowned, a StorySynth Jam game from David Harris in which we play the inhabitants of a future Earth, 100 years after a cataclysmic flood has raised ocean levels so only the highest elevations rise above the water line. We are members of a new community, The Ideal, which hopes to build a better world, one that doesn’t pillage nature but harmonizes with it. Each of us has come to the Ideal for different reasons. Penelope is a young woman raised by her recently deceased grandfather who longs for stability and has a deep fascination and love of animals, including her pet sea turtle Shelly. Rissa always looks for the logical approach to a problem, seeking evidence and testing ideas before building a new solution. Sema Buchle recently ran away from her parents out of love for the oceans but, more fundamentally, seeking to understand what broke the world and how it might be healed. And Delaney has a special connection with nature, having once literally lived with the birds, a feral child raised on a remote island by albatrosses for the first years of his life.

A sea turtle with brown coloring drawn on white paper and a sketch of a young woman with braided hair.

Act 1: the People

Delaney brings with him to the Ideal a pearl-handled foldable knife he used to cut fishermen lines and nets in his old community when they endangered birds. He remembers the strife this caused there and fears how others will react to him carrying it, so he keeps the knife secret. Sema decides to be his friend, however, fascinated by the mystery of the young man’s origins., having only recently learned that the flooding of the world is a recent phenomenon. Delaney doesn’t find his past that remarkable and generally doesn’t talk about it, but he indulges Sema and always gives an answer to her many questions. Penelope had to overcome the death of her grandfather and sail the seas alone for the first time to reach the Ideal. After arriving, she quickly runs into trouble when she releases animals penned in an Ideal enclosure, unable to bear seeing them caged. While she learns to compromise and allow some animals to be kept for the good of the community, Penelope encounters and grows close to a lemur she names Tom-Tom, who becomes a regular around our village. Early after her arrival, Rissa recognizes this is the place for her when she’s told, “This is how we do things here,” as two parties resolve a dispute by presenting their evidence and laying out their reasoning before the collective. Rissa lives with quiet shame, however, at having lashed out and killed a flying fox bat when it surprised her one evening.

Act 2: the Place

Sema keeps moving her belongings further from shore, convinced the water continues to rise, and begins putting her belongings in whatever plastic she can scrounge from the lost world. She’s reminded, however, of her childhood by an interior grotto that the seawater regularly reaches and replenishes, and notices with wonder how prolific is the plant life here, full of fruit trees and verdant forests. When an elder member passes away, Delaney initiates a ritual of taking strands of the deceased’s hair and weaving it with strands from the survivors, putting them together on a toy sailboat, and launching them into the sea. Delaney finds how to fit-in by looking to the birds, how they take only what they need for the moment, unlike humans who hoard and covet. When he shares his outlook one day with Rissa while criticizing her plans to increase fishing or clamming yields, she begins to understand what it truly means to live sustainably—she must accept that now is enough and not worry about what may happen tomorrow. As she contemplates these ideas, she sees what is limitless in the Ideal: sunlight, seawater, and wind. Penelope sees a rodent making off with the last of our storehouse of dried apricots, and sheepishly brings to the community the importance of sealing off the food stores from the wild animals. Despite having been here for some time, she continues to sleep on the docked boats, just as she did when her grandfather was alive.

Act 3: the Creatures

Penelope has grown to appreciate how the people in the Ideal study and learn before acting. We cultivate plants who complement each other and can grow in symbiotic harmony, producing abundantly without competition. She also notices the natural lands that were lost when the village was built and how that has led to conflict with some wild creatures. She works with Sema to identify which plants we need to restore the balance between our island’s flora, its fauna, and ourselves. In addition, Sema builds sanctuaries on the island for any displaced animals and migrates their homes to the new habitats. Throughout this, her obsession with the world before the floods has grown, and she feels herself drawing nearer to uncovering the key to the flood’s cause. Rissa gets involved with improving the system of runnels and barrels that collect rainwater, trying to integrate them with the forests and use the forest’s natural funneling process to gather the rain more reliably. While working in the interior, she encounters Sema’s grotto and finds it an apt metaphor for our situation: we too must learn to wait for the world to come and restore us rather than try to force ourselves upon the world. Delaney has noticed the birds following his fishing boat, seeking the fish they know he sails to find. As the terns and gulls grow increasingly comfortable with him, he feels honored by their trust and validation.

Epilogue: Why do you feel positive about the future?

Rissa is moved by how we put aside personal ambition for the good of the community, are each committed to making it work, and act in good faith toward one another. Penelope loves how conscious the community is of the environment and how precious we treat each resource. Delaney admires how we each live for the group and live for today, accepting that this now is enough. Sema feels hopeful as she finally unlocks why the world flooded and believes it could be reversed someday.