Chance in Hell: An Introductory AAR to the Occult Chronicles


The Occult Chronicles, the latest offering from Vic Davis, already has its own thread but I thought I’d do an AAR as a primer of sorts for those who are curious. I won’t go too far, as a true AAR would spoil the stories of the missions.

So: mild spoilers of the early part of one mission are contained herein!

The basics of gameplay are laid out in the game’s main page at the Cryptic Comet site.

The game gives you a choice of with six missions involving solving a horror-themed mystery. We’ll start with one that seems most true to the game’s Lovecraftian roots:

Hmmm. A human sacrifice. Sounds ominous.

The other choices on initial setup: Story speed is essentially the ticking clock. You have to solve the mission before the 12th story token is drawn, or you lose. This setting determines how fast the tokens appear.

There are five difficulty settings. The game mode toggles between Reaper and Normal. In normal, you can save anywhere, and if your character dies you are put back at the beginning, but with the rooms you’ve previously uncovered left revealed. In Reaper, you can only save on exit, and death is permanent. This is the setting that most emulates a rougelike and it is what Vic recommends. Despite the screenshot above, I ended up playing in Normal to facilitate note taking for the AAR.

The choices in character creation are many, so even with just six missions there is massive replayability.

Twelve different character types, each with their own starting bonuses. For this run through, we’re playing as a soldier.

The next set up choice is to pick a bone (die) that will be used in addition to the default bone that comes with your character type. Vic recommends, “You should select a DIFFERENT starting bone that complements the bone that comes with your background.” As the soldier character comes with Bone of Swords, we’re adding Bone of Wands. Not sure if this is complementary with the Swords Bone, but at least its different!

Then we choose our edge, which is a passive skill. There are many too choose from (right hand column) and as we’re in a John Wayne kind of mood, we choose True Grit (described in left hand panel). Other passive skills can be drawn later in the game.

Finally in character creation, we allocate point among various stats:

As I’ve found in past runthroughs that its easier to lose our sanity than to die outright, I am putting more starting points into sanity. The lower four stats are your basic tarot attributes, which can be boosted as the game progresses, and which affect gameplay in a variety of ways, mainly in combat. As we’re going with a soldier, we emphasize swords.

Our character is now complete and we are ready to enter the mansion.

Norfolk N. Chance, soldier-for-hire, enters the mansion armed with a Remington Shotgun that he conveniently tucks underneath his trench coat. It is quite warm outside, but he understands that you must wear a trench coat in order to investigate a haunted mansion.

Chance makes his way to the top of the stairwell. Best to start in the upper floors of the mansion, he reasons.

The clue card is saved and can help later in the game:

Further along he creeps, exploring a second floor hallway, and comes upon the game’s first challenge: a locked door:

This is the most basic of the challenges that players will encounter every step of the way. Here, you have two choices: leave the door alone, or attempt to activate it. Of course Norfolk opts for the latter.

Resolving a challenge means entering a mini-game: a trick-based game using tarot cards. Your ability to win the challenge can be gauged by studying the modifiers that appear before you make the choice. For example, mousing over the option of activating the lock displays these modifiers:

This is a wands-based challenge, so the modifier (2) is equal to the wands tarot attribute we chose on startup. The lock has a basic difficulty of seven, and this is then decreased by the modifier down to five. Obviously if we had poured more points into wands to start, picking locks would be easier.

The target of five is the number of points we must accumulate in the trick-taking game to unlock the door. This is a difficult challenge – because we have only win trick to win and must get five points in doing so.

The face down cards represent the tricks to be won. The face up cards at the bottom are the cards we are dealt. I won’t get into the fine details of trick-taking, that’s in the manual. I will say that to win a trick you need a higher value card of the same suit as the trick card that is revealed.

[INDENT]EDIT: Here’s a brief explanation of trick taking:

All non face cards are worth 1 point. Pages are worth 2 points. Knights are worth 3 points. Queens are worth 4 points, Kings are worth 5 points. Major Arcana (A Trump Card) are worth 7 points if they take a trick.
You receive points for both the trick cards taken and the cards played from your hand to take the trick. So if a Page of Swords is played to take a 3 of Swords you will receive 3 points.
If you do not have any cards in your hand that match the suit of the revealed trick card, then you may click on another unrevealed trick card and attempt to match and take it.
You proceed to reveal trick cards and play cards from your hand until you can no longer claim any more trick points. The more trick points that you claim above the target value for success the better your rewards will be during the results phase. Conversely, the fewer points you have compared to the target value for success, the worse the penalties will be during the results phase.

So our three drawn cards are 5 of Cups, 9 of Wands, 7 of Swords. The face down trick card must be one of these three suits for us to even have a shot at winning. As the drawn cards are low in value, the odds of winning the trick even with a suit match is slim. The target, again is five points, which is the margin of difference in the value between the drawn card and the trick card when you win a trick.

Revealing the trick card:

So we play the 7 of Swords on this and win the trick. Unfortunately that only nets us two points toward the target of five, so we lose the attempt to activate the door.

At this point, just starting out, the only item we have that could be used to affect the outcome of the challenge is our Remington Shotgun. That, though, can only modify a combat challenge, not a lock challenge, so here it is of no use.

Note that once you get used to playing the challenges, they take a matter of seconds, so it is possible to keep trying to unlock the door in hopes that you’ll get lucky. However each lost challenge presents a chance you’ll be penalized in some way, usually through lost health or sanity, so there is a downside to simply repeating the challenge until you’re successful.

Speaking of luck, the game includes a luck modifier that goes up or down depending on cards drawn as rewards or penalties after a challenge is resolved.

And speaking of rewards and penalties, having lost our attempt to pick the lock, we must choose 2 cards in the penalty phase (the number of cards is roughly akin to how far away you were from your challenge target).

The mostly likely card is ‘No results,” and that in fact is our penalty.

So we emerge from this relatively minor encounter unscathed. Onward!

Having lost the attempt to activate the locked door mechanism, Chance could keep trying and hope for a lucky draw. Instead he opts to explore further down the hallway:

He opens four other doors near the locked one. Below him is a reading room. Opposite the locked door is a bedroom. In front of him is a stairwell leading back down to the main floor. But to Chance’s left is a room with something odd, something that catches his interest. He opts to explore that room.

It might not have been such a good idea.

This is our hero’s first combat enounter. Prior to each such encounter, you are given a chance to ‘resist the horror,’ essentially to stave off the effects of the initial meeting:

Another difficult challenge, with just two tricks and a single card drawn.

Fortunately for us that card is a King of Pentacles, and we win the challenge, allowing us to choose two reward cards.

Ah well. Nothing gained, but at least we resisted the horror of the Ghost.

Having won that attempt to resist the horror’s tentacled grasp, Chance opts to do battle. Since the ghost is a paranormal, actually combat is not an option. Instead, three options: a psychic encounter in which he tries to dismiss the Ghost, a psychic encounter in which he tries to communicate with the Ghost, or an attempt to flee the ghost. We opt for the second:

Just one trick to be played, but the target is only three, so its do-able.

Luck shines upon us, as the only trick card is the 6 of Wands, and one of our drawn cards is the Knight of Wands, given us 4 and beating the target of 3. Note that had we not put 2 points in Wands during set-up, the target would have been 5, and the challenge would not have been won.

Again, we come up blank on the rewards but do draw a Quest card, which is described in the upper left:

These quest cards are stored in your personnel file and are to be completed as the game progresses.

And with that the story advances, Norfolk N. Chance continues to explore the haunted mansion.

No horror game would be complete without zombies. Chance finds a pack of them rambling down the hallway. First he must resist the horror.

The resist attempt fails and we must choose three penalty cards. One of the three penalty cards dings our hero for two sanity points, dropping Chance’s sanity from 16 down to 14.

Next Chance faces a choice: battle the zombies, flee, or try a shotgun blast. We opt for the first.

Two tricks, with a draw of five cards and a modified target of just five (knocked down from nine thanks to putting four points into swords on setup).

An example of winning the battle but losing the war: we have won both tricks, but by slim margins thanks to a poor draw. Thus we garner only four points, one short of the target. Its a fail, and we draw penalty cards. In this instance, the penalty was one card, and it had no result, so Chance was not dinged in that encounter.

Ever optimistic, our hero tries again to battle the zombies, this time with better results:

Drawing the Queen of Cups wins us just the one trick, but with six points. The zombies are vanquished, and we collect our rewards:

Not much, a modest bump in health, but we’ll take it.

Emboldened by the victory, Chance ventures into the reading room.

The question marks represent two possible encounters. Dramatic music flares up in the background as a bead of sweat trickles down Chance’s brow. He turns to his left, and…

An attempt to resist the horror of the face in the vase results in Chance’s sanity dropping two more points. At this point, sweating profusely, he opts to leave it alone, but quickly comes upon another horror in the same room:

Resistence is futile:

Chance suffers no damaged from the failed resistence attempt, but has no chance to simply leave it alone. Instead his options are to attack the crocodile, use sorcery to dispel its attachment, flee or – a tantalizing choice:

This gives us five cards with which to win up to three tricks, with a modified target of five. Its do-able, Chance muses.

Our draw is not bad, three of five cards of higher rank:

But the tricks are too difficult:

The King of Cups, on which we are forced to place our lower rank Eight of Cups, then a Pentacle and another Cups card, neither of which we can win. The encounter leaves us with zero points, and we await our penalties:

Chance’s health takes a hit, and that stat is now down to 12.

What’s interesting to note is that in this combat, unlike an encounter like a lockpick, losing a challenge does not end the encounter. In this case, Chance must again battle the crocodile.

Is there a gameplay reason why you immediately went upstairs as opposed to exploring the first floor? From past failures, the encounters seemed to scale higher once you get off of the main floor.

The second time against the vile crocodile, victory is ours:

Our spoils are limited to one Expertise token:

In Chance’s personnel file, we apply that token to swords, to build up that stat.

Two more tokens applies to Swords will increase that stat by one.

Emboldened by that victory, Chance decides to return to the mysterious vase in the same room, and to destroy it with a shotgun blast:

With the King of Cups edging the Knight of Cups, Chance narrowly wins the challenge.

Eventually our hero makes his way back down to the first floor, and while exploring a narrow corridor, comes upon the Organ Room.

Obviously this doesn’t refer to the type of organ with keyboards. Cue ominous music.


My recollection is that Vic said exploring upstairs was a better way to start off… though I don’t recall where he said that (I was in the closed beta and it might have been in an email exchange) and perhaps I got it wrong. (And as you see in the last post, I do make my way back down to the first floor without having finished upstairs).

This is awesome, nice AAR!

Also, everyone can/should buy the beta now for $15 ($5 off final price, I think).

Looks really interesting, but without reading the rules, it’s really hard to tell what’s going on. I have no idea what determines the number of tricks or the draw size. Also, since beating a 5 with a 7, 8, or 10 all netted two points, not sure how points are determined.

I wasn’t clear on that either. However once i actually RTFM…

All non face cards are worth 1 point. Pages are worth 2 points. Knights are worth 3 points. Queens are worth 4 points, Kings are worth 5 points. Major Arcana (A Trump Card) are worth 7 points if they take a trick.

You receive points for both the trick cards taken and the cards played from your hand to take the trick. So if a Page of Swords is played to take a 3 of Swords you will receive 3 points.

EDIT: BTW, Great AAR, Now I know I’m more or less playing this correctly. :)

It’s in the manual, the third-last paragraph of the Overview:

In general you should explore the upper floors of the mansion first.

Though it doesn’t give any reason why.

I am gonna go with “should”. Damn fine game so far. The only reason to hold back is either to toss Vic an exta $5 or to hold off on the initial experience until tuning is done.

As to Mr. Tylertoo, this is a tutorial as much or more than an AAR. Bravo!

I still remember one of my professors (who worked on the National Security Council) saying about diplomacy that “words were important.” and I thought that I’d taken that lesson in…but obviously not. I gave tylertoo some bad info (or gouge as we used to say) and it’s probably gotten him killed on more than one occasion. What I meant by “upper floors” was basically an admonishment to NOT go down to the basement until after he had explored the upper levels…but you should probably scope out the main floor first. Sure you can go to the second floor directly but the encounters will be slightly more difficult there. You also tend to find that some quests start on the main floor and need trips up to the second floor or terminate there as well…and vice versa. But in genereally the difficulty is supposed to ramp up as you go from the man floor to the second floor and then to the attic.

The game then changes dramatically when you enter the basement/dungeon/caves. I modeled this area on the Tomb of Horrors. You need to carefully find the Crypt of Acererak,…er I mean the final encounter and beat it. :)

Other than the card minigame and choosing the actions to pursue (attack, open doors, etc), is there any other gameplay to this? Do you play mostly for the story?

That and to try different character builds

Nice AAR as always, tylertoo. I found one typo in the middle of post 5 where you mention you played the King of Wands when it was really the Knight of Wands which is worth the 3 pts in the communicate with the ghost - not really a big deal, but just for clarification. Early on I found myself confusing and mixing those up a lot until I realized they were different :).

Thanks for the explanation of the upper floors and difficulty, Vic. I was thinking the difficulty would be easiest at the top floors. It is good to know that the 2nd floor and attic are a bit tougher so I take a bit more time before I head up.

I have been trying games lately being strong in wands and mental challenges with the professor or apprentice and picking backgrounds that give me more draws for wand/horror checks. This allows you to have strong chances in all of the horror checks, but weak in fights where there are no mental options. Because of this, it makes more sense for me to pump more points initially into health as I am stronger in mental challenges and will gain lots of sanity points, but tend to lose health points when I get into a fight I cannot win and need to try to flee (I tend to have problems with zombies and the wandering patrols as you cannot banish or attack them mentally it seems). My last game I got up to 30 sanity and my health pretty much stayed steady or even dropped a little. It may make more sense to cover your weaknesses in how you distribute your health/sanity points at the start.

I have just been playing the one mission so far. I must say that even if that was the only mission in the game, I feel I will get enough enjoyment and re-playability to justify the cost. With their being 6? total missions with different stories; that is quite impressive.

/looks around… Um, what’s a AAR?