Pinhead Deserved Better Than He Got

Like two-thirds of my Vestitas encounters are some horror movie premise drafted into 40k, and generally speaking that works out pretty well. I feel like I failed Hellraiser, though, and that one hurts most of all, because pretty much alone amongst all the horror franchises I’ve drawn on, Hellraiser is the only one that’s consistently failed its own premise. There was a chance here to make an RPG encounter that lived up to the potential of Pinhead in a way that his actual movies never did. It’s a general rule of the first three Hellraiser movies that every scene with Pinhead is great and every scene without is mediocre at best (and the first movie suffers from having almost no Pinhead), and it seemed like it should be pretty easy to come up with a retelling of the first three movies in RPG format that uses Pinhead effectively.

You start out with the first movie’s premise of one of Pinhead’s followers being revived by a chance encounter of his remains with one of the people he slept with during his descent into hedonistic madness, and using supernatural beguiling charm to convince her to feed him other victims, slowly restoring him to his former health and vitality. As the bodies pile up, the case will eventually catch the attention of our heroes as well as a local noble with a hidden interest in the occult. The noble begins working with the characters if at all possible under the guise of helping to stamp out heresy and put an end to the disturbance of the peace, but when they track the two cultists (one living and one undead) down, the noble tries to snatch the puzzle box and run, hoping the characters will be too distracted fighting off the other two. The undead cultist is slowly worn back down to his original, dessicated state as his extra vitality is shorn away by lasfire and explosives.

When the noble is confronted with the puzzle box, whether that’s amidst the fight with the original cultists or after the characters escape that fight and track him down, he solves the puzzle box to open up a gateway to a labyrinth in the Warp, where various daemons led by our Pinhead expy hunt the noble, his allies, and the characters through the tunnels. We can use the first act to establish the noble’s allies, which gives us some NPCs to be killed off by the daemons during this section. The Pinhead expy only sticks around for a bit to make sure that the other daemons are doing a right proper job of killing all the people who got sucked into the labyrinth, and soon into the labyrinth leg he leaves to terrorize the mortal world. After killing each of the three daemons in the labyrinth in turn, the characters find the exit and must follow in the wake of Pinhead’s trail of destruction, placing the puzzle box into its banishment configuration so that he can be defeated and then confronting him to apply the sufficient amount of firepower to do the job. It’d be a better Hellraiser story than any actual Hellraiser movie ever released, especially if you’ve got a GM who can get Pinhead even kind of right.

That basic outline has sat in my ideas bucket almost since the project began, and I ultimately ended up converting it into the kind of lame puzzle box daemon I used. I like the puzzle box mechanics, but by skipping to the end of the story it really denies a lot of the build-up. Sure, this would be way more complex than most of my one-encounter hexes (really stretching the limit of what qualifies as a “one encounter” hex, considering the Brandt’s Landing urbancrawl has a story only slightly more involved than this one), but it wouldn’t be the first time that what is nominally a mini-adventure hex ends up containing a full adventure in it. I was just never able to write out the first two acts in a way that felt natural, especially since there’s two different ways the whole thing can be aborted early, the first by keeping the puzzle box out of the noble’s hands (not even all that difficult!), and the second if the characters manage to force the Pinhead expy into an early confrontation in the labyrinth and kill him, then the climax is just going to be with the other cenobite expies, who really only deserve space in the story as build-up to Pinhead. The whole story works better with significantly more guidance (though not outright railroading) than Vestitas has generally been built to be run with, and while other GMing styles are fine, introducing a jarring tone shift from one style to another in the middle of a campaign is not.

Hellraiser isn’t even close to the best horror franchise I’ve mined for the Vestitas project, and it’s not even one that has any particularly special significance to me. It’s also not the only encounter that proved to be much more dull than it seems like its premise should be able to deliver on. The main reason I’m so disappointed with it is that this is the first one where it felt like I had a solemn duty to do its premise better than the actual source material, but apparently Pinhead is cursed to always be in crummy media. Maybe I’ll give it another go when editing the final .pdf together. It really feels like the only problem right now is figuring out contingencies for if the initial serial killer plot is solved without the noble getting his hands on the puzzle box.

I should hopefully have another Vestitas encounter up tomorrow, which will be based off the Purge. Unlike Hellraiser, I have no particular standards for quality on this one beyond being fun to play for as long as it lasts, because the premise of the Purge is stupid nonsense and the main hook for it is probably going to be how thoroughly obviated the whole premise is as soon as anyone who actually knows how to murder people shows up to join in.

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