Friday, 8 November 2013

To Hunt Me and Frustrate Me in My Designs

Some readers of this blog might find it strange that today I'm having a go at Dracula's Castle from J.H. Brennan's Horror Classics series. After all, I've played it for this blog before, haven't I? Twice, even?

Oddly, no. That is, each of the Horror Classics books actually contains two separate adventures, one using the odd-numbered sections, the other the evens. Jonathan Harker's misadventures take up the even-numbered sections of Dracula's Castle, while the rest of the book is devoted to the trials and tribulations of Count Dracula himself following the exsanguination of Mr. Harker. The thing is, not that long after Harker's unsuccessful attempt at ridding the world of the Count, a second visitor turns up outside the castle: the rather better-equipped Abraham van Helsing.

Stats are generated in the usual manner, and as Dracula I have the following:
Life Points 100
Speed 2
Courage 2
Strength 6
Skill 1
Psi 5
Fractionally above average, but there are some serious weaknesses in there.

My biggest disadvantage as Dracula is the need to sustain my unnatural existence. Whereas Harker regains lost Life every time the reader turns to a new section, Dracula loses Life each time, and can only regain lost points by draining the blood of an opponent (achieved by getting a total of 6 or 12 for the 'to hit' roll in combat). The last time I played as Dracula, I got killed in an avoidable fight with a wolf, having attacked just so as to have a chance of feeding.

Until I can find the secret door leading into my crypt, I can only get in and out by teleporting, which costs PSI points (or a lot of Life I can ill-afford if I'm out of PSI). I hope I shan't have to return to it often, as the search for secret doors is very risky when playing Dracula: hidden somewhere in the castle is a priest's hole, with so intense an aura of sanctity that blundering into it is automatically lethal to the Count.

Anyway, I start by teleporting to the music room. There's someone playing hymns on the piano, and my low opinion of van Helsing's musical skill leads me to conclude that it's not him. A quick look reveals the pianist to be a baby, but then I notice the wings that indicate it to be a cherub. Don't ask why the whole 'ability to play a tune on a piano' thing didn't make me suspect that this was no ordinary infant.

The cherub has a PSI ability of its own, which enables it to hurl garlic-flavoured fireballs at me. The rules governing how and when it uses that ability are not massively helpful, even if I assume that 'not' is supposed to be 'now' in the phrase 'Throw one die not to determine how often the creature will attempt to use this ability'. Is the fireball-flinging in addition to or instead of a conventional attack? And, given the cherub's low PSI score, there's a 50% likelihood that it'll kill itself by using Life points to fuel fireballs. In fact, after just two rounds of combat, the cherub is down to 16 Life, so it can't afford to conjure the third of the five fireballs that the die indicated it would try to use.

I survive the fight with just 2 Life points left. Given the drain that comes from turning to new sections, that means I'll drop dead as soon as I leave the room. But I don't have any choice, so I fling open a door, step into the sitting room, and presumably disintegrate. The rules of this half of the book need a major overhaul if it's to be made playable.


  1. It's a shame, as these books always seem really entertaining but let down by sloppy rules. Still, 'killed by entering a sitting room' is a new one for the blog!

  2. A Brennan book with unclear and/or bad rules? Shocked, gambling, this establishment :)