Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Betrayal On Nottaway Hill

When he was three, he wore a batman cape and a pointy-eared hat I bought during the After-Halloween Clearance Sale at a fabric store. When he was five, we painted his name in bold block letters on the back of a red vinyl coat I found at Goodwill, added some black galoshes from their shoe shelf, put a plastic junior firefighter helmet on his head and wished him a happy birthday. We were pretty broke that year.

My son always loved role playing games.
But roles have reversed and the games have gone weird. I just don’t get them. There’s no dress up box. No cowboys. No Indians.

Now when he plays a role, there isn’t a pseudo superhero in sight.
There’s just a box in the middle of the dining room table, stacks of character cards, thousands of cardboard confetti pieces, and a ten chapter instruction manual with a table of contents devoid of  a very important warning: 
This game cannot possibly be completed in under four hours. Blow yourself up with zombie dynamite in the first roll of the dice if you know what’s good for you.
I never got the dynamite card.
Two years ago I played Arkham Horror with my son and at the end of the night I wanted to throw myself under the wheels of an oncoming ghost train. He said it was an easy game to play. He lied. I spent four hours running from zombies. I don’t even believe in zombies.
And . . . history repeated itself.
“Hey, Mom,” he began a couple of weeks ago, “I have some new games I know you’ll love. They’re easy!”
I should have faked a stroke.
“You have your choice,” he told me. “Eldritch Horror or Betrayal At House On The Hill?”
Those were choices? Whatever happened to Monopoly and Candy Land?
We role played two days in a row, and I’m here to tell you I was betrayed twice in his house on the hill. More on that in another blog. For now, I was given the role of a nine-year-old girl with the eyes of Satan.
“She’s better than the creepy séance woman on the other side of the card,” my daughter-in-law told me as I stared in Arkham Horror at my character’s picture. “She only has three points of sanity but five points of speed.”  So? Most nine-year-olds have five points of speed. Toddlers probably have fifty but there weren’t any toddlers in this edition.
Here’s the catch. They always tell you this is a team game. That’s how they suck you in. It makes it sound like a charity event. No competition. No losers. Just win-win.
What a lie-lie.
The goal was to build a house where we could all live like the Waltons—no, make that the Munsters—and search for a treasure. Right up to the point where one of you turns out to be a traitor. And there’s a haunt who shows up somewhere. Then all bets are off, and it’s every character for himself as you try to escape an imploding house in your Nightmare At House On The Hill.
My son explained the rules to us. I took eleven pages of notes—typewritten—while Lee kept asking me, “Is that clear?”

Yes, I don’t understand, I nodded.
In the first round, my husband, Rob got stuck in the basement where he attended his own funeral and then escaped from his coffin. I have no explanation for that - he still looked alive to me. But it does seem like the afterlife might be located in the basement. I had the mystic elevator all to myself and didn’t know how to make it go down to his level from where I was stuck on the third floor.
“If I get out of this alive,” I thought to myself, “I’m naming my next dog Claustrophobia.”
It was all downhill from there.
On the verge of cracking up, our team spirit gave up the ghost three hours into the mini-drama. My daughter-in-law observed, “Lee, I feel like you don’t remember how this game works.”
I never knew how the game worked.
“That’s fine,” he retorted, “I’m not responsible for your feelings.”  Jessica rolled her eyes and the dice while muttering something under her breath aimed in his direction.
“What was that, Captain Losington?” he challenged.
Nobody told me Captain Losington was a player. If they had, I would have chosen him instead of a demonic nine-year-old with only three sanity points.
Captain Losington rolled some dice and announced that she had decided to collapse the house. Her nemesis husband looked strangely pleased and, suddenly, I realized the two of them had it in for us from the very beginning. It was all starting to make sense. There was no treasure. No team effort. No sense to this game. This was payback for that batman costume.

Mr. and Mrs. Losington were out to get us.
I made a frantic effort to steer my mystic elevator to the basement where Rob had been trapped with his own casket for seventeen turns. And by frantic effort I mean I rolled some dice and asked my turncoat kids what three blanks and a two meant.
“It means I’ve locked you in the attic for all eternity,” Jessica said with an evil laugh. That’s how they always treat the mother-in-law—throw her in the attic with some moldy bread and turn up the TV so you never hear her voice again.

I broke out in a cold sweat.
Outside, a real live storm was building momentum and heading our way. “That purple pin is us,” Rob said as he showed me the radar on his phone.  Perfect. With any luck, I thought, I can experience the collapse of two houses tonight.
Punctuated by a clap of thunder, Captain Losington rolled a sixteen with a pair of dice that only have one and two and blanks on their sides, took her character to Bahamas, and the rest of us put our character cards back in the box, flat like the house that had crushed us.

Just like that, the game was over.
Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we’re free at last.
It was eleven o’clock, I’d lost another four hours of my life to role playing, and now faced a walk outside in the pounding rain without my umbrella where I’d surely be struck by lightning and accomplish the impossible feat of being killed twice in the same evening.

And my hairdo wouldn’t survive very well either.
“We could put a plastic bag over your head,” Jessica said with a sardonic smile, and my son laughed his evil laugh, revealing that he had struck a deal with his wife while I was sleeping through the game’s instructions, and would soon be joining her in the Bahamas.
I knew it. They’re all traitors, if you ask me.

See if I make him any more fireman suits.
** * Photos of your adult children in costumes are the best revenge.  ;)

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