Lost spell book? Get your formulas back!

“Young wizard, I see you have lost your spell book. Yes, a real pity. No doubt you know how you can recover all your spells*. Yes, of course you do. But you need to get that spell back immediately, you say?

Well, all right, I’ll tell you: there is a way. It won’t cost you anything… just your soul. Ha ha, of course I’m joking. To recover your spells, all you have to do is think of the spells you want back and sacrifice something of enormous value.”

Roll 1d6

  1. Your right eye (-1 to -3 on vision-based rolls)
  2. Your left hand (-1 to -3 on rolls requiring the use of both hands or specifically the left hand)
  3. Your tongue (1-in-6 chance of miscast all your spells)
  4. Your memories of youth (-1 to one random ability)
  5. Your good fortune (-1 to all your saving throws)
  6. A loyal or beloved friend or companion
  7. Your identity (no one outside your party remembers you)
  8. Your autonomy (an Outer Being will impose an obligation on you that you must fulfil within a certain time frame; if you fail, you will lose these spells permanently)

After the sacrifice, you recover 1d4 spell levels. For example, if you roll a 4, you can recover four level 1 spells, or two level 2 spells, or one level 4 spell, or any other combination.

This sacrifice is for emergencies only, and doesn’t work for higher level spells.

*1,000 gp and one work week for each level of spell to be recovered.

On the nature of goblins

The life of the peasantry is hard. The taxes are high, the work is exhausting, the rewards are minimal, sometimes non-existent.

The promise of a happy life in “the other world” in exchange for working the land is almost never enough. You have come to wonder why God sends this torment to your children, and you come to doubt His infinite goodness.

When no angel of death comes to strike you down with his bolt of justice in punishment for your doubts, you wonder if there really is a god. And if there isn’t? Are you going to devote your life to serving a man who told you there is a god? Are you just going to take his word for it?

But hunger rages. You, your wife and your fourteen children need something to eat. The work doesn’t provide enough. You must do something.

The idea that there’s no god has settled in your brain, and guilt for thinking so has given way to cynicism. Your children no longer seem like a blessing from heaven, but simply a deception to perpetuate the comfortable life of the few, at the expense of the suffering of the many.

But you’re no fool. That morning you took your two youngest children, went into the forest with them, carried them as far as your courage would carry you and slipped away quietly, stealthily. In a final show of kindness, you allowed them to keep their boots.

You knew your sons were too young to find their way back. But without a god to punish your act of evil, could it really be considered an act of evil? Parents abandoning their children and leaving them to fend for themselves is the rule in the wilderness. What separates you from the animals, now that god is dead?

Eventually you forgot. Or you managed to convince yourself that you had forgotten. Things had improved a bit. Two less mouths in the family meant one more portion on your plate.

And above all, neither god nor the devil had come to claim your soul.

This certainty invaded the minds of others. No one would admit it, but everyone knew that the others had done the same as you: abandoned the youngest in the forest.

The village itself looked different. Maybe having all the children God wanted to bless you with hadn’t been such a great idea. Your neighbours and fellow villagers looked healthier,

This well-being lasted for some time, but it could not last forever. The guard’s shouts woke you up. “The goblins are coming!”

The goblins? No doubt the guard got drunk again during his patrol, it wouldn’t be the first time. But something had to be going on, judging by the commotion in the streets. You peeked out the door. The fire had soon spread. Your house would be consumed in no time. There was no time to do anything for your wife and children.

Then you saw them. Little figures were running around, their mocking, evil laughter overpowering you. A stone in the head put you to sleep. It saved your life.

You awoke with difficulty. You were the only survivor. You watched them walk away. Without daring to sit up, you saw something that made your blood run cold. Two of the strange creatures were wearing your children’s boots.

Goblins are feral kids

Why go on adventures? | How to buy into the OSR game loop

The most common game loop in OSR is the sandbox, which consists of a large area that the characters can explore as they please, with virtually no restrictions. None of these areas are mandatory, nor do they all have to be explored in any specific order.

But so much freedom can be paralysing, because in the absence of an intrinsic reason to accept the game loop, players must come up with a justification, or simply “just because it’s fun”, which is not bad, honestly, but it can put some people off.

In general, this is not a problem. Players know what they’re getting into when you invite them into an OSR sandbox, but if they don’t, how can you convince players to accept this loop without making it seem arbitrary or meaningless?

Without a raison d’être, why would a character be interested in exploring a sandbox? It’s simple:

  • You’re a peasant, a serf, a chancer, maybe a leper.
  • You hate your life, you hate your lord, you hate your spouse and children, and you don’t wanna die in these conditions.
  • You take a hatchet, your boots, your last coins, some bread and cheese, and go into the old mine (any point of the sandbox, actually). You know you might die, but who knows? Maybe you’re lucky and find something valuable you can sell for more than what you make harvesting potatoes.

In other words, you’re too lazy for a proper job, so you’d rather take your chances cajoling wizards.

 

‘Seriously, just give me a gold coin. Guaranteed!’

Some monsters for Into the Odd

Nothing defines a world better than the creatures that inhabit it. One thing that makes Into the Odd different is the openness of its world, in which the most ridiculous or solemn oddities and eccentricities you can imagine can fit at the same time.

These are some of the inhabitants of my own version of Bastion, Deep Country and The Underground.

Angler Toad: STR: 16, DEX, 10, WIL, 6, 15hp

d6 Bite, Swallow

  • Huge, black, warty and hungry. Hidden in the undergrowth or mud.
  • If its bite causes maximum damage, DEX save vs Swallow. If you are swallowed, STR save or you’ll be digested in an hour (but if your friends kill the toad, they can take you out alive).
  • The tip of its tongue is hard and resembles a gold coin, with which it attracts victims.

Dragon Spider: STR 18, DEX 12, WIL 6, 15hp

Pale Chitin Armour 2, 2d8 Bristling Multi-Jaws and d6 Thrashing Limbs Blast

  • Ceaselessly seek juicy cattle to drag back to their web-lair.
  • Sprays a sticky web-acid (d6 Blast, anyone taking STR Damage is webbed until cut free from the outside), once per day.
  • Cowers in fear from even the smallest bird.

Fatberg: STR 18, DEX -, WIL -, 20hp

d10 Acid Shot, d20 Dissolve

  • Huge putrid masses clogging the drainage channels, formed by the city’s waste, a mixture of fats, oils, grease and all kinds of rubbish.
  • Weapons deal only 1hp damage; when attacking with melee weapons, DEX save or be absorbed (Dissolve, d20 damage). Each round make a DEX save until escape or dissolve.
  • Acid dissolves it in seconds. Fire deals d20 damage. A torch causes d10 but DEX save or the be absorbed.

Ghost Librarian: STR 11, DEX 10, WIL 10, 18hp

d4 WIL cold damage

  • Invisible; only a floating book and eyes of green fire can be seen. Hates enemies of books.
  • If the book is open, the librarian is reading and the PCs win initiative. If it’s closed, he wins the initiative.
  • He will stop attacking if offered apologies. At 0hp it will disappear and the book will fall, but it will return with its full hp in 24 hours. Its STR doesn’t suffer damage.

Grabinski: STR 13, DEX 9, WIL 10, 7hp

d6 Strangle

  • Siamese skeleton, one skull, four arms, two torsos, four legs.
  • It wants to choke you by strangulation.
  • DEX save vs d6 STR strangle damage.

Ice Devil: STR 15, DEX 17, WIL 2, 11hp

Carapace Armour 1, d10 Ice Fork (Freezed Solid on Critical)

  • Seeking a single target, to be frozen and taken back to Ice Hell.
  • If killed, summons d6 Ice Devils to avenge them (these cannot Summon any more).
  • Imprint: Anyone that survived being Frozen by the Devil’s fork (kill the devil before it takes you to hell) now has ice-blue eyes, and can recover lost STR by bathing in freezing water.

Mišti: STR 16, DEX 10, WIL 10, 12hp

d6 STR gas damage

  • Human form over 10 metres tall, made of glowing mist.
  • Seeks souls (life essence) to live. If the victim dies, her body dries up like a mummy and the Mišti gains 1 WIL.
  • If its HP reaches 0, the rest is deducted from its WIL (no Critical Damage). At 0 WIL, it dissolves.

Mollusc-Man: STR 10, DEX 8, WIL 8, 3hp

Shell Armour 2, d4 Water Blast

  • 50% oyster, 100% appetizing. WIL save or you’ll eat it when you kill it.
  • Imprint: If you eat it, you become a hermaphrodite. At will you can look appetizing to anyone who misses a WIL save.
  • 1-in-100 chance one of its eyes is a pearl (150s).

Moonie: STR 11, DEX 11, WIL 14, 7hp

d6 Sword or d8 Cosmic Ray Gun

  • They’re moon-headed, they’re from space and they’re up to no good.
  • They can’t leave witnesses.
  • Cosmic Ray: STR save or d8 STR damage. At STR 0, victim is reduced to dust.

Old One: STR 16, DEX 6, WIL 10, 16hp

d10 Slam and Will save vs Cosmic Despair

  • It doesn’t care about you, it doesn’t even know you’re there. But you are in its way and it’ll crush you like an ant.
  • Its existence is so abysmal that the very idea of such a being existing is beyond your mind, it’ll cause you a small cerebral infarction of cosmic despair. WILL save or acquire Mark of the Machine.
  • Mark of the Machine: Never feel joy, sadness, or boredom. Perform a routine task tirelessly, perfectly, and inhumanly fast. People can tell you’re dead inside right away.

Wolf-Man: STR 15, DEX 16, WIL 10, 11hp

d8 Bite

  • 1-in-6, appears in human form.
  • It’s more afraid of you than you are of it, but pretends otherwise.
  • It wants you to leave, but will kill you if necessary.

What happens when you leave a negadungeon

Negadungeons are cursed places. You don’t enter a negadungeon chasing promises of wealth and fame (at least not usually). You enter a negadungeon chasing obsessions.

Smart adventurers (or players) avoid negadungeons like the plague. Sometimes they enter a dungeon and as soon as they notice something’s off, they leave.

Leaving the Negadungeon Unfinished

“Unfinished” is an ambiguous, arbitrary term, and must be interpreted by the referee according to her own campaign and style. An “unfinished negadungeon” is generally one that is left:

  • before at least half of it has been explored,
  • without finding/destroying/solving the main item/monster/mystery

Save vs Curse

When adventurers escape from a negadungeon, each must make a saving throw vs. magic. Those who fail are cursed.

Effects

Roll a d6 to find out the effect of the curse on your character (and any accompanying NPCs). The curse will activate during sleep (the next time the victim sleeps).

  1. Every morning you wake up with blood on your hands. You did something during the night but you don’t remember it. But maybe someone saw you do it.
  2. Every night you dream of the negadungeon, your sleep is restless and there is a 1-in-6 chance that the next morning you will not be able to prepare spells. If your class doesn’t allow you to cast spells, lucky you!
  3. You have seen it in your dreams. Something important to you (a child, a spouse, a family heirloom, your lucky pants) is deep in the negadungeon. You don’t know if it’s really there, but what is certain is that it’s not where it should be (at home, among your possessions, etc.)
  4. You find them everywhere. Instinctively you recognise them. They are the original inhabitants of negadungeon. They are spectral apparitions, a pair of disembodied eyes watching you from a distance, a voice calling for “help”. Every morning you must make a saving throw vs. magic or you will automatically lose initiative in all your encounters for the day (in group initiative, you are considered a separate group).
  5. You have been marked by the dark sign. This sign, visible as a scar or tattoo on your face, is like a lantern that attracts moths, but in your case it attracts chaos. Each night you must sleep in an area bright enough to prevent you from resting (the next day, all your rolls are made at a -1d4 penalty); otherwise, 1d4 undead will appear at any time during the night, automatically winning the surprise roll.
  6. Animals hate you. You can’t ride horses, stray cats and dogs might attack you, crows want to steal your eyes, animal-based food makes you sick.
  7. Animals talk to you, you can understand them. They have nothing important to tell you but they’re annoying. You may need to make a saving throw vs. magic to avoid responding to them with irritation, especially in front of others, who probably think: “Hang the witch!”
  8. In stressful situations (combat and many actions requiring dice rolls), you must make a saving throw vs. magic or you’ll begin to bleed from your genitals for 1d4 turns, suffering one point of damage each turn.

Identical results are rolled again. Each time a result has been rolled, the referee must create new options.

Get Rid of the Curse

The only way to remove the curse is to fulfill the obligation that the curse has placed on you. This obligation can be something as “simple” as returning to the negadungeon and completing it (explore more than 50%, solve the mystery, eliminate the monster, obtain the treasure, perform a purification ritual at the dungeon’s heart, retrieving the relic, rescuing the spouse, sacrificing an animal… the options are endless!), or something as elaborate as completing a multi-step ritual over several days or weeks, which would lead to one or several more adventures.

Beyond the Black Diamond Gates – weird magick spell

Ah, the dreaming, the last frontier, the door to the impossible. But sadly, dreams are not real, therefore they leave you with a bittersweet feeling in the morning, they show you what you could but can’t achieve. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

It is rumored that certain oneiromancers have managed to go through the Black Diamond Gates that allow dream objects to be brought into the material world in which most of us live.

This spell allows a Magic-User to instantly get any one item that she could normally carry with her (a weapon, some clothes, food, nothing fancy) just by reaching out, as though the item was in front of her.

The rules for weird magic can be found in either Vaginas Are Magic! or Eldritch Cock, both supplements are free (but you need a DTR account or they will be invisible).

10 Elements for a Realistic Postapocalypse

1. Humans work together

There are a lot of assholes in the world, but there are more normal people, which means that when a disaster or accident happens, more people try to help and collaborate than try to take advantage of the situation. We see this in hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, car accidents and any other catastrophe. In a post-apocalyptic world, people would band together and collaborate; bandits and profiteers would be few, and established groups would not conflict with other groups, they would seek to collaborate as well.

2. Fights are lethal

Professional fighters are trained to punch people in the face with their fists, yet they often get injured and require specialized treatment and time to recover. You’re not a professional fighter and don’t have a team of doctors to treat you, you need to avoid getting hit as much as possible; without your hands, you’d die.

3. Feral dogs

Have you thought about what happened to Max and Bella? They most likely joined up with other dogs, forming a pack to scavenge for food from the wreckage. Over time, the dogs have reverted to a previous state, no longer man’s best friend, now they want to eat man. This has happened after events such as Hurricane Katrina and the earthquakes in Haiti. Before bandits and mutants, these packs would be an immediate danger to survivors.

4. Diseases and infections

Medicines last only a few months on the shelf before they spoil and lose their effects. The collapse of civilization means that there’s almost no one to produce new drugs, and any untreated injury could lead to death. Even during the first few months, when the drugs are still in good condition, who would know what substance and in what quantity you need to soothe those bruises that just won’t go away?

5. Rabies

Rabies would be one of the most common diseases and one of the most constant and lethal dangers. Not only dogs transmit rabies, other animals that can transmit it to humans very easily are cats, cows, ferrets, goats and horses, as well as wild animals: bats, beavers, coyotes, foxes, monkeys, raccoons, skunks or groundhogs. Although it is not common, poultry can also be infected, but since they do not present symptoms, transmission from bird to human can be very easy.

6. Malnutrition

Without an organized society, who produces food? Are you going to resort to hunting, fishing and gathering? Are you going to start a small vegetable garden? Do you know how to do it? Even if you manage to grow some potatoes and lettuce, will you be able to get enough iron? Vitamin B? Calcium? Chances are you’ll be weak and sleepy most of the time, that is if you haven’t gotten scurvy or leukemia. Engaging in a fist fight is not a realistic option.

7. Automobiles

Gasoline dissolves in a matter of days. After three months, and without a petrochemical industry to produce more, in three months the reserves will be depleted. Electric cars are not a more advantageous option either, without hydroelectric plants, who will produce the energy to power them? Solar cars might be a better option, but when damaged, will you be able to repair it, or even get the materials to try.

8. Cities would be flooded

In the absence of infrastructure and institutions in charge of urban maintenance, wastewater would no longer be pumped or directed to the sea and drainage systems would collapse. In addition, cities are not very porous to rainwater, as there are few areas of land compared to concrete or paved areas, so water would accumulate more quickly, covering some parts of the city.

9. Fires

Fires are common but usually do not become a big problem because there is always someone capable of controlling them. But even with government and infrastructure in place it is not uncommon for a fire to get out of control, without a competent authority, forests and cities would be reduced in a few years. Forests can grow back, but not cities.

10. Nuclear meltdown

More than 30 countries have nuclear power plants, and the number of these plants is more than 400. It is enough for just one nuclear plant to fail to produce an explosion so large that it would raise a cloud of radioactive dust that would cover the entire Earth. This would prevent sunlight from entering and consequently all plants would die. There would be lethal radiation all over the world, and only people living in underground shelters, where they could protect themselves from the excess radiation, would survive.

There are two rats in this room… Let’s make rats interesting!

A trap, a power, an NPC and a Character Class for your rat-flavoured games using B/X stats.

New Trap | Rat Nest

You have fallen into a burrow full of rats, thousands of them.

Each round you suffer 3d4 points of damage, save vs paralyzation for half damage. In one round you can light a torch but that round you cannot save vs paralyzation. The light and fire keep the rats at bay for 1d4 rounds, after that, they get bold and rush at you.

New Power | Command Rats

Depending on the system you use and your preference, Command Rats can be a spell or an innate or acquired ability. The mechanics are less important than the effects.

Vancian Magic: Level-1 Spell. Duration: The Magic-User’s level in turns.

Otherwise: Innate, acquired, purchased, through an item, granted by King Rat, whatever. Duration: 1d10 turns or referee’s choice. User per day: Charisma’s modifier, minumum 1.

Effect: You can control a group of 1d6+9 rats to act in unison. The group has HP equal to the number of individuals, and will disperse when half of its members are lost or when the effect runs out. You can give them an order and they’ll carry it out to the best of their ability, as long as it’s not an order directly harmful to them.

Secondary Effect: When using this power, and for 1d4 days thereafter (cumulative), you’ll be constantly surrounded by friendly rats, they’ll climb on your shoulders, run around you, etcetera, but the intense light and fire will keep them away.

New NPC | King Rat

Leather Armor, HD 3, HP 12, Weapons 2 katara (push dagger) for a total of 1d8 damage (when attacking using only one, damage is 1d6).

King Rat is a man of about 45, handsome but slovenly, who lives in the catacombs, surrounded by rats who obey him and with whom he can talk, mainly about poetry, philosophy, politics and science; whether the rats understand or respond to him is open to debate. An anarchist, he doesn’t believe in authority but believes in fair exchange.

Command Rats: He can use this ability 5 times a day. How did he get it? If questioned and he decides to tell, he will say that it was given to him by God Rat, but will not give further details. King Rat doesn’t have any scarification.

Mark of the Rat: An adventurer can fulfill an assignment in exchange for the Mark of the Rat, which allows him to use Command Rats as described above. The Mark is a rat-shaped scarification on the left temple.

New Class | Rat Catcher

Only the man who cleans the public latrines has a worse job than you. But after all, you are not cut out for a glamorous life, nor are you cut out to rub elbows with the nobility or to know carnal love. But such trifles don’t matter to you, or at least you’ve managed to convince yourself of that. The alternative is very depressing.

A rat-catcher. [Source]
Requirement: DEX 9
Prime Requisite: CHA
HD: d6
Max Level: 14
Armor: Leather
Weapon: Any
Languages: Common, Thieves’ Cant

Combat

Poverty, or as you call it: freedom, is your motto. You are not used to wearing armor heavier than Leather; if for some reason you wear it, you can’t use your Knave, Track Vermin and Rat Senses abilities, and you lose 2 or 4 points of DEX while wearing it (Chainmail and Plate, respectively).

Gallows Humour

You get a +2 bonus to your rolls to resist psychological effects, magical or otherwise, related to fear, sadness or nihilism.

Knave

You know one Thief Skill of your choice (or randomly for more fun), except Find/Remove Trap and Pick Pocket. You can use it as a Thief of the same level.

Rat Senses I

You’re good at finding your way around sewers, catacombs, dark alleys and other artificial or semi-artificial structures. If you are the party’s cartographer, the referee is obliged to make at least one major correction or any number of minor corrections she wishes. When you come to a room or hallway that you have already visited, you always know that you have been there before and notice any relevant changes.

Rat Senses II

When you are in a dilemma between several possible paths, there is a 2-in-6 chance that you will instinctively know if there is any immediate danger (such as traps or an ambush).

Track Vermin

You can automatically detect and track vermin, including kobolds, goblins and the like (referee’s choice), and of course rat-folk. When you fight these creatures, your Thac0 receives a bonus of 1 (19 becomes 18, etc.)

9th Level

You can completely clear and control a major area of the city’s drainage system, subway tunnels or alleys, an area that will serve as your territory. You will be the leader of a gang of 2d6 thieves and 3d4 0-level beggars who will follow you and protect the territory, and will be happy to pay a small voluntary weekly tribute as long as you don’t show yourself to be a despot or start bathing more frequently than them, you fop!

Starting Gear (roll 1d30 three times)

1. Antivenom. 2. Dark clothes. 3. Stolen letter. 4. One-use lockpick. 5. Rope (10 m.) 6. Rusty knife (d4 dmg.) 7. Mud protecting boots. 8. Stinky wheel of cheese. 9. Book of satyrical and anarchist poetry against current authorities and the church. 10. Five rat traps. 11. Wooden plank (d6 dmg.) 12. A blood-stained nobility title. 13. Five flashing bomb flasks. 14. Flask of oil. 15. Five torches, tinder and flint. 16. Bronze key to a missing stash. 17. Valuable-looking book you can’t read full of demonic symbols. 18. Box containing five vials of mysterious sludge. 19. Old backpack. 20. Black hat. 21. Dog. 22. The sword of a nobleman (1d8 dmg), anyone who sees it will know it was stolen. 23. Eye patch. 24. Mantle. 25. Soft, stealth shoes. 26. Garish clothes. 27. Frying pan. 28. Crowbar. 29. Sling and ten stones (1d4 dmg.) 30. Cage of 1d4 live rats.

Level Progression

More rats? More rats!

Silent Hill 2: A Psychoanalytical Reading

1. Putting things in context[*]

The plot in Silent Hill 2 is more complex and has more edges than one would suppose. It all begins when James Sunderland, in a rather depressing scene, in a dirty bathroom, looks at himself in the mirror and recapitulates what brought him here. He has received a letter from his wife, in which she asks him to come and find her in the resort town of Silent Hill. Nothing alarming, true, although strange enough for a video game, an industry where the narrative standard is that of a zombie invasion and a group of agents who must stop it and restore order. But right away comes the first quirk: James recognizes that it is absurd to be there looking for his wife, since she has been dead for three years. But he’s somehow convinced himself that she’s there, and he won’t leave without finding her. Let’s admit it, it’s crazy.

Characters

Throughout his adventure, James will meet other characters who seem to be looking for something in the same town. He interacts briefly with them, but although their relationship doesn’t go very deep, we get to know them quite well.

These characters catch our attention because of their realism and humanity, and the great interest they arouse can only be a representation of how important they are to James and to the story.

James Sunderland

James is the main character, and the one who will be controlled by the player[1]. He also serves as the link between the player and the universe displayed on the screen. He’s not an action hero, but a common man, still young (he’s 29 although he looks older), which allows the player a complete immersion in the plot. In other words, James is an average man who could be any of us.

At the beginning of the game, James makes it clear (to us) that his wife, Mary, has been dead for three years, but also that he’s recently received a mysterious letter written in her handwriting. In this letter she asks James to go find her at their “special place”, somewhere in Silent Hill. When in town, James is confronted by strange, nightmare-like events that force him to question the town, but also, and more importantly, his own sanity, his memories and his relationship with his deceased wife.

Mary Shepherd-Sunderland

James’ wife. The couple had vacationed in Silent Hill some time before, and James made a videotape of them in their room, but when they left, they left the tape behind. Mary liked the town so much that she asked James to take her there again.

Mary suffered from a painful illness that caused the progressive disintegration of her body and marriage. James didn’t visit her in the hospital often, as she had become grumpy and lost her beauty. But in the hospital, Mary found some solace in Laura, a little girl whom she grew to love and whom she planned to adopt when she overcame her illness.

James decided to put an end to their suffering, smothering Mary to death with her pillow. But James has forgotten this event. Throughout the game there are several symbols that have the function of reminding James of the tragic event, but only until we find video footage where the moment of the crime is explicitly seen (the video tape he recorded), James cannot make the repressed memory conscious.

Maria

When James arrives at Silent Hill following the letter Mary has sent him, he thinks he will find her in the park by the lake. In the letter, Mary asks him to look for her in their “special place,” and he assumes it’s there, where they had spent many happy afternoons.

But when he arrives, it’s not Mary but Maria who seems to be waiting for him. Maria not only shares the same name with Mary, she also has the same appearance, except for her hair and clothes (Mary has brown hair, wear light-colored clothes and has a sober style, Maria is blonde—bleached—with red tips, wears bright-colored clothes, sexy style and makeup).

After exchanging a few words she asks James if there might not be another “special place” to look for Mary, and he mentions that perhaps Mary meant the hotel. Maria tells him which way to go there, and as they say goodbye, she asks him not to leave her alone, as the city is full of monsters. James decides to take Maria with him.

Along the way, Maria is killed by an enemy known as Pyramid Head, a monster wielding a gigantic knife. James is shocked and devastated by the loss of Maria, more than what might be considered normal when faced with the death of a stranger. He later finds her again, alive and with no memory of what happened, except that they were separated. This confuses him, but he ends up accepting it without much questioning. Maria is killed several more times. This is, no doubt, a metaphor representing the murder of Mary by James himself. Maria is, of course, a copy or a reflection of Mary. This is clear in the extra scenario included in some versions of Silent Hill 2, called “Born from a wish”, i.e., “that which is born from a wish”: James’s desire to get Mary back, distorted because the sick Mary was not exactly what James wanted; but it’s also the unconscious desire to punish himself by reliving over and over again the crime he committed against his wife.

Mary’s personality is a dense web of complexes[2], at times she seems shy and fearful, at other times she appears confident and even mischievous. There are moments when she uses a sweet or seductive tone, which indicates her tender feelings for James, but she also knows—as seen in “Born from a wish”—that James is a bad man, who has killed his wife, however she “remembers” that underneath it all, he’s a kind and wounded man.

In several moments, Maria makes it clear that she’s a representation of Mary, as when she exhibits a remarkable concern for Laura, and demands James to look for her and protect her, or when in the hospital she feels sick and lies down in a room to recover, while James continues looking for the girl.

Despite the fact that Maria seems to have the keys to heaven (literally and figuratively speaking; remember that scene where to get from one street to the next they must go through the bar where Maria supposedly works, and which is called Heaven’s Night—a night in paradise?—she pulls out the keys she carries hidden to open the door and enter), James is so obsessed with finding his wife (or at least discovering the meaning of the letter received) that he generally does not pay too much attention to Maria, although after each of her deaths, he remains silent, suffering a real mourning for her death, which is also Mary’s death. In the last of these deaths, at the hands of not one but two Pyramid Heads, James has realized that he no longer needs Maria, for he has recognized his sin and is willing to purge it.

Angela Orosco

Angela Orosco is a young woman (she is 19 years old, but her appearance and voice make her look much older) who is looking for her mother in Silent Hill. She’s been a victim of sexual abuse by her father, Thomas Orosco, who, according to a note in a newspaper that we find, has been killed by receiving multiple stabs in the neck; neither the attacker nor the weapon have been found.

She’s a shy, introverted woman, and her clothes (jeans, white turtleneck sweater, covering her whole body) give her the typical appearance of a person who has suffered abuse in the past (partly because wearing a lot of clothes makes abuse difficult), and the first time we see her, she’s in a cemetery, in a white mist. She also suffers from delusions; on one occasion she mistakes James for her mother, and in another scene, when James has defeated a monster, Angela finishes it off by throwing a television at it, and complaining for the damage it has done to her. The monster is called “abstract daddy”, and represents Angela’s father.

When later James finds Angela in a room holding a knife, evidently contemplating suicide, he tries to help her and talk her out of it. Angela asks him to hold the knife for her in case she needs it later. Elsewhere, James tries to touch Angela’s hand to instill reassurance, and she complains, tells him he’s a liar and that he has surely left his wife to go with another woman (this is important, can Angela see James’s real face?) She also shows her repulsion for all men. Some of her words addressed to James are: “So what do you want, then? Oh, I see… You’re trying to be nice to me, right? I know what you’re up to! It’s always the same! You’re only after one thing!“, “No… don’t pity me. I’m not worth it… Or maybe… you think you can save me. Will you love me…? Take care of me…? Heal all my pain…? …That’s what I thought.”

The last time we meet her, she’s going to the top of a building; the stairs where she is leaving are on fire. We have entered her personal hell, which is not made up of monsters but of burning fire. We can intuit that the only monster she sees is her father. Her delirium would have led her to take literally the idea that her father, the abuser, is a monster; James manages to see this monster, but only in an abstract form (“abstract daddy”). At times Angela seems to be interested in James, and it seems that she tries to seduce him but does not succeed.

James sees himself in Angela, who wants to punish herself for having murdered her father.

Laura

She is an 8-year-old orphan girl whom James frequently encounters in Silent Hill. Unlike the other characters, she doesn’t seem to be afraid of the city, and when he asks her if she’s not afraid of monsters, she looks at him curiously, almost mockingly (monsters? How crazy), since she’s the only innocent person, and therefore doesn’t see monsters or strange things, including Maria (although Maria tells James to protect Laura, we never really see Maria and Laura together or interact in any way. Truth be told, Maria never appears with any other character besides James).

Before the events of Silent Hill 2, Laura and Mary became friends, and during the game’s story, she also seems to be looking for Mary. In the introductory video to the game, we see her with Eddie, and this brief scene indicates that they may have arrived in town together in the van he drives. Laura is a temperamental child, James calls her a liar on one occasion.

Laura also has a dislike for James. But the aversion she feels is due to his relationship with Mary. To Laura, he’s a bad man who has hurt her friend, and near the end of the story, it is she who, indirectly, helps him recognize that it was he who ended his wife’s life.

Although at the beginning she is an enemy of James, in the end she becomes kinder, because perhaps she has gotten to know him a little better and realizes that he isn’t the monster she thought, but a man tormented by his inner demons, by guilt and sadness.

Or, you know, because she’s a little girl and was hoping to find in Mary a mother… and in James a father.

Eddie Dombrowski

Eddie is the least ambivalent of all the characters in Silent Hill. When you first meet him, he’s vomiting copiously in a bathroom, having found a dead body in the refrigerator. He seems like a scary and somewhat ridiculous young man, he dresses like a child and his clothes are too small for him. He also seems to see monsters, but he doesn’t know about “that red pyramid thing” James talks about. Eddie sees his own monsters.

He has arrived in town along with Laura, and on one occasion we see them interacting more or less amicably. Laura insults him, but he doesn’t seem bothered, as busy as he is eating a pizza. There is not much we can know about his life before these events, but it is clear that he has not had it easy and that he’s been a victim of abuse (bullying, probably), on top of that we know that he’s on the run from the authorities, and that’s why he ended up in Silent Hill.

Eddie usually represses his anger (as happens when Laura insults him), but he also manifests some aggressive outbursts, as we can observe in some of his conversations with James.

Every time we meet Eddie, he’s near bodies that have been horribly murdered, and he always insists that he had nothing to do with it (psychoanalysis has taught us that when someone is faced with a fact too uncomfortable to accept, he or she rejects it by insisting that it is not true, even if there is evidence to the contrary. When a person offers a denial without being asked, as Eddy does, it’s a clear indication of this kind of abnegation.)

In one of their encounters, Eddie boasts of having killed the man whose corpse we can see to one side, but then laughs and says it was just a joke, and immediately leaves. Soon after James finds three open graves, each with a name written on it: James, Eddie, Angela: the three sinners who roam the streets of Silent Hill.

In his final encounter, Eddie no longer presents the defensive attitude but is proud of his crimes. He states that he will kill anyone who belittles or mocks him, even with their eyes. James manages to penetrate Eddie’s personal hell, becoming a cold-blooded murderer, which appears as a container of meat. It’s a cold space, with pieces of meat hanging from hooks, the pieces vaguely human-shaped. Although James tries to reason with him, it’s not possible, for Eddie doesn’t listen to reasoning and takes it as an insult, so James will be forced to defend himself against Eddie’s attacks, and must kill him if he is to survive. This shows that James, deep down, is indeed capable of killing another human being.

James sees himself in Eddy, who stops running away from his personal hell to instead embrace it, becoming a murderer and feel proud about it.

Monsters

Monsters are more relevant in Silent Hill 2 than almost in any other video game (and many literary and cinematic works of horror), as they are not creatures thrown around randomly, but serve a symbolic function in addition to their normal function as enemies to fight.

Pyramid Head

He is the main monster in Silent Hill 2. He looks like a burly man wearing a pyramid-shaped helmet that causes him pain (that’s a common thing in the Silent Hill series, the monsters not only cause pain to the characters, but they themselves are victims of some kind of suffering), and he carries a gigantic knife with which he attacks James and Maria, and later, a wooden spear. His first appearance is in a hallway, right in front of James, but there is a grate in between that prevents passage for either of them; at this point, he represents a mirror of James himself. Later he’s found attacking or maybe sexually abusing two mannequins, and James makes him run away with pistol shots. Shortly thereafter, the creature attacks James on a stair landing, from which James manages to escape with his life almost by miracle. In the end it is two identical monsters that James must fight. After causing them a certain amount of damage, the creatures walk to the center of the room and commit suicide.

Pyramid Head represents James himself, tormented by his burden (the metal helmet for the monster, and the guilt for James; the helmet is a kind of shackle but for the head, for the mind). This representation is clear from the first encounter, when James and the monster face each other, as if in a mirror. Pyramid Head attacks James, but also other beings (demon patient, mannequin, Maria), symbolizing James’s own aggressions against Mary (the mannequin seems to symbolize Mary; at one time we find a mannequin wearing Mary’s clothes after all). When he finally recognizes that he’s to blame for everything, he no longer needs Pyramid Head, so the latter kills himself, which could also be a warning of James’s own suicidal desire.

In essence, Pyramid Head is James’s punisher, who believes he deserves to receive punishment for killing his wife, but at the same time he represents James himself, as we see the creature commit the same brutal acts that haunt James’s mind, whether he committed them (such as the death of Maria/Mary) or thought them up (he’s not only a punisher, he’s might be a sexual abuser). Pyramid Head tries to kill James, but at the same time opens the way for him to move on (when he allows him to go down the flooded stairs, and when he throws him over the edge of the hospital rooftop, so he can move on), i.e. Pyramid Head is James’s unconscious mind, which at the same time tries to remind him and hide his crimes from him. It’s the repressed desire that seeks to come to light, and also the resistances that want to keep it hidden.

Demon patient

They look like psychiatric hospital patients trapped in straitjackets, naked and semi-disembodied, but the straitjackets are made of their own skin. There is no doubt that their primary significance is to remind us of James’s madness, both in their aggressiveness (they are slow, persistent, wide-ranging enemies, just like the madness) and in their fragility. Trapped in their own bodies.

Mannequin

It’s a mannequin that, from the waist down, is shaped like a woman, and instead of arms has another pair of female legs, which lack feet. The mannequin is a representation of James’s sexual desires and his frustration related to his wife’s illness. The first time this monster appears, there’s two of them, and both are being apparently raped by Pyramid Head, while James watches the scene, hidden in a closet.

A mannequin is a less-than-human thing that reminds us of a human. Mary’s illness took away her beauty, and this, in James’s eyes, is tantamount to having lost what made her human.

Bubble head nurse

These are nurses who wear provocative attire, but are covered in filth and their faces are bandaged, revealing only jagged jaws. A second class of nurses, found in the dark, have their heads covered with a semi-transparent latex-like material similar to a condom, but which also could be interpreted as a symbols of suffocation. These monsters attack with a rusty tube. They represent, no doubt, James’s sexual desires, but they also remind him of his wife’s condition and her hospitalization. This enemy reminds us that James killed Mary by suffocating her, but at the same time, it’s another reminder of the sexual theme so present in the game. Sex and death, so close to each other.

“Bubble head,” in colloquial slang, is used to denote that someone is stupid (“empty-headed”). James shows a grudge against the doctors and nurses who “let Mary die” during her illness, and killing these monstrous nurses may also be a form of retribution.

Mary

Mary is the last monster that James fights, at the end of the game. Depending on the decisions made during the adventure, James meets either Mary or Maria on the hotel rooftop. If it is Maria (disguised as Mary; a last attempt to convince James to stay with her), James will reject her and she will transform into the monster. If it is Mary we meet, she will reproach James for killing her and immediately attack James.

This monster is a representation of Mary in her terminal stage, she’s lying on a metal frame, her limbs have turned into tentacles and she’s hanging upside down. It attacks James in three ways: by throwing a swarm of moths at him, by hitting him with the metal frame, or by suffocating him with the tentacles. The moths represent death (compared to Maria’s tattoo, which is a butterfly and symbolizes rebirth—a new beginning, perhaps?)

2. The Theme of the Three Caskets

The central motif in Silent Hill 2 is one that comes from ancient tales and legends: the choice of the casket. This theme concerns a person, usually a man, who must choose between three metal caskets (gold, silver, lead), and the one he chooses will seal his fate. The caskets represent women, like any other similar objects (brooches, drawers, trunks, baskets, chests). They’re actually symbols of the vagina, and the vagina represents a woman.

We find this motif in two of Shakespeare’s plays: King Lear (the old king must hand over the kingdom to one of his three daughters, the one who proves to love him the most) and The Merchant of Venice (three men will choose between three caskets, the one who makes the right choice will marry the merchant’s daughter), and also in many folk tales and fables, such as Cinderella (the prince who must choose between the three sisters), or Apuleius’s The Golden Ass (where a man must decide which is the most beautiful among the three goddess sisters), and so on.

James must choose between three women: Mary, Maria and Angela. This is not very clear in the game, but is a very subtle element, related to small decisions that we make throughout the game. For example, when Angela hands over her knife, we can enter the inventory to observe it, and this would be interpreted as James considering the possibility of suicide; when we meet Mary for the first time we can go directly to the hotel or wander the streets, which would be interpreted as a desire to meet Mary or to spend time with Maria; and so on).

This series of decisions will lead to one of the three possible endings of the game, i.e. the different fates for James. Each ending is represented by one of the three women.

Mary

If we or James choose Mary, what happens is the following: James discovers that he killed Mary and therefore felt guilty and sought his punishment in Silent Hill, but now he has forgiven himself and decides to continue with his life. As Mary is dead, it seems that James, regaining his sanity, will be left alone… but this is not the case, as he is soon joined by Laura. Laura becomes the daughter of Mary and James. They both visit Mary’s grave, leave her flowers and leave together, like a father and daughter. Sanity and life has won out, one might say.

Maria

If on the other hand we or James choose Maria, upon defeating the monster Mary, James returns to the lake where he first met Maria, and she’s there, waiting for him. Together, they leave Silent Hill. But, as they walk away, Maria begins to cough, perhaps an indication that her story with Mary is to be repeated. It’s delirium that has triumphed (remember that Mary is not real, but an illusion created by James to remember and hide the fact that he has killed his wife), and the tragedy can be expected to repeat itself. After all, trauma has a tendency to repeat itself over and over.

Angela

Although James doesn’t seem interested in Angela, she is presented as a seductress (in one scene, James finds three tablets, representing the “archetypes” of “the oppressor”, “the gluttonous pig” and “the seductress”. The latter represents Angela and sexual urges). James, though he doesn’t manifest it, might be interested in her in a sexual way (this is inferred only by the presence of this tablet), and it’s sometimes obvious that she thinks that to be the case, but what is clear is that he’s tempted to follow the fate she has outlined by handing him the knife and telling him “You are just like me”: i.e. death. If the choices in the play lead James to choose neither Mary nor Maria, which are the two active choices, that is, if he chooses Angela, which is the passive choice, the non-choice, it means that he chooses death over madness and sanity (life) and ends up committing suicide, throwing himself into the lake.

3. Who are they?

But who are these three women really? In myths, tales and legends, like those mentioned earlier and other similar, the third and younger of the three women (sisters, most of the time) is always chosen. “The third of those sisters, among whom one has to choose, would be a dead one. But it could also be something different: death itself or the goddess of death”[3]. Following this reasoning, these three women represent “the three inevitable relationships with woman: the mother, the companion and the destroyer. Or the three forms that the image of the mother takes in the course of life: the mother herself, the beloved, chosen in her image, and, finally the mother earth, who welcomes us back into her womb.”[4]

Mary is the mother, the one who gives birth, the one who gives James a daughter, though not a natural daughter but an adopted one: Laura. In this sense, Mary is also a mother, James’ wife who was chosen in the likeness of the biological mother (this we can only assume, as there is no reference to James’s parents); moreover, Mary’s name refers to the Virgin Mary, the mother of God and of all men, in Catholic mythology.

Maria is the companion, or the beloved, chosen in the likeness of the mother/Mary; Maria is similar to Mary, even in name, but idealized, modeled after James’s desire.

Angela, whose name is the feminization of the angel, is the destroyer, the corrupter, the seductress; her seduction goes beyond the sexual, it’s above all biological: she’s death, the grave, so seductive to James that it is the most likely ending we will get (and it’s the canonical ending). She wears white and appears for the first time among white mists; this color, in Japanese Buddhism (the game was created by a Japanese team), represents death. Also, as in the stories, Angela is the youngest of the three women, but unlike these stories, here we can choose any of them. We can choose our own fate.

Notes

[*] I wrote this essay as part of a postgraduate course in psychoanalysis applied to works of art, in 2013. Although some concepts have changed over the past 8 years, my thesis on SH2 remains the same. I publish it here because I have no other space where to do it. After all, I have written about video games before.

[1] These two sentences seem obvious, but whoever has played Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (deconstruction of the original game) knows that being a protagonist and being a player character are not necessarily the same thing.

[2] Complex: Organized set of representations and memories endowed with intense affective value, partially or totally unconscious. A complex is formed from the interpersonal relationships of childhood history; it can structure all psychological levels: emotions, attitudes, adapted behaviors. (Jean Laplanche y Jean-Bertrand Pontalis. “Complejo”, en: Diccionario de psicoanálisis. Barcelona. 2004.)

[3] Sigmund Freud. “El tema de la elección de un cofrecillo”, en. Obras Completas 2. España, Biblioteca Nueva. 2003. p. 1871. (en 3 tomos). [English translation]

[4] Ibid. p. 1875.