My two main hobbies are Role-Playing Games and collecting ghost stories. So, this past weekend, I had a rare opportunity to combine the two by taking part in my friend Matt Steele's Dead of Winter gaming mini-convention at the Brookdale Lodge in Felton, in the mountains of Santa Cruz County.
It was a fuckin' blast! Loads of fun were had by all, and I am really hoping that it happens again next year.
The hotel itself is reputed to be haunted, and it can be a damn creepy place under normal circumstances. We happened to be there during a large winter storm, and so it was even weirder a place than normal.
The Brookdale lodge is a conglomeration of several different buildings - three buildings containing hotel rooms and a few shops, the lodge itself which contains the hotel's lobby, a strange room below the hotel's swimming pool through which you can watch swimmers (when the pool is open) - kinda' a voyeur's creepy dream, really - a stage, two bars (only one of which is currently open), and the brook room - a large (and formerly opulent) dining room built above a creek channel, with the creek visible (and audible) from all parts of the room. The last building is a log cabin that has been connected to the rest of the building by a hallway. Our games took place in the log cabin, with four tables set out and a a group of players surrounding each table. For a convention-newbie such as myself, this was ideal - all of the players were there by invitation, and each of them was an excellent player, leading to some of the most enjoyable gaming experiences I have ever had. I tried some new games, and was pleased with both their ease-of play and their overall effect, and my fellow players were a fun, friendly bunch who were nothing short of amazing to game with.
Matt set up a great event, and his long-time partner Lisa deserves a lot of credit for keeping things running smoothly even when matters began to go awry. The general feeling amongst the players was that if Lisa was around, the situation was well in hand and all would be well - we were all very, very grateful.
And things did go wonderfully awry (no sarcasm, it really was great). The theme of the mini-con was horror games - every game ran had a horror plot line, most of them with a supernatural bent. In the storm, we quickly discovered that portions of the Lodge's roof and ceiling have gone missing over the years (though thankfully not in our play area) and water poured inside and pooled on the ground in many of the rooms. Some of the walls had experienced excessive rot from years of neglect, and water and cold air came in through them. The end result was that, between the ghost stories already in circulation about the place and the lodge's decrepit state, the place was creepy as hell and really fed the mood for running horror games.
Towards the end of the first game session on Saturday, the lights went out. We were able to continue with sufficient light between flashlights and the daylight that made it in through the locked window shutters, but with sunset approaching, we needed to do something. Luckily, Lisa and a few of the attendees quickly gathered electric camp lanterns and candles and began to bring some light into the gaming room, even if only in small pools at each table.
For any other event, the loss of electrical power and a decrepit building would have been a detriment. For this event, it was a boon. The reduced lighting, added to by the fact that we had to pass in the dark through one of the allegedly more haunted rooms to get to or from the gaming room, added to the surreal, creepy feel. The damp under our feet when we walked into or out of the gaming room added to the on-edge feeling essential to a good ghost story (and by extension, a good horror game). The games became more fun, and the attendees more excited. When power was restored around midnight, many of the attendees demanded that the lights be turned off near their tables to preserve the atmosphere that had built up during the evening.
It was, to put it simply, fucking awesome.
While there, I naturally went about looking for things to add to the ghost stories that I have collected for this place. There were a few other visitors, not related to the gaming con, who were there specifically to stay at a haunted hotel, included a pair of teenagers and the mother of one of them who were there as a sixteenth birthday present. They reported hearing voices and then a crash from an empty room - not unusual for a building with weird acoustics, a gaming convention, and a deteriorating roof, but they were good and spooked (it probably helped that some of my fellow gamers took to jumping out at people in the dark).
I also took a number of photos in the darkened lodge, such as:
And here's an interesting set. Both of these were taking in the Brook Room, less than 30 seconds apart. I have no idea why one has fog over it and the other doesn't. My girlfriend suggests that the foggy photo may have captured my breath (it was very cold, and out breath was condensing), and I suppose that this is a perfectly plausible explanation.
While it likely has a pretty simple explanation, seeing this appear on my camera's view screen on a dark and rainy night was an eerie experience.
All in all, it was a great weekend. I hope that this happens again next year, as I would love to game these people again.