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The Effort Required to Disbelieve a World

Players had an entire “Night”—the length of which they agreed on themselves—to reach the heart of the labyrinth and find the exit. Bencivenga had surpassed his own genius by creating a maze generated by the variables determined by the rolls of the die. However, the real game began only when one of the characters finally reached the Exagon Room. The player would then ask the Night’s Eye to grant a wish from one of four categories: Love, Money, Adventure, or Knowledge. From that moment, Night began to recede and give way to Day. The other players then had two possibilities: to risk going for the Exagon Room themselves, or to head for the Exit before the Night ended and trapped them within The Mansion’s walls. That’s where the tricky part began. For every turn after entering the Exagon Room the first character had to roll the die. If a double digit (11, 22, etc.) was drawn, the game would Freeze. Freezing was a bit like Suspension in The Tower: The game would be “on hold” and could resume only when the four players were together again after the time they had allotted for Night had elapsed—a time that could range from ten hours to fifty years.

In a game that lasted ten hours a character might receive some modest benefits: finding a lost key, receiving a nice postcard from a girl they fancied, dodging a splash of coffee on their suit. When the game was extended to two weeks the boons became more interesting: a small win at the lottery, a rival in love incapacitated by illness, good marks at university. Things got better still if you dared to play on. After one year, your enemies would fall like flies; impossible lovers would be won in a fortnight; mysterious visits would reveal you to be of blue blood. In a game that lasted ten-plus years the effects would begin to reverberate over the whole world; and if you won the prize, from twenty-plus years the result would be fairy tale–like. A young woman would be proposed to by a mysterious man who would later turn out to be a prime minister; a young man would set off towards adventure and find the ruins of an unknown civilization; an unforeseen experiment would open a new branch of science; a player would write a masterpiece in the league of Flaubert or Tolstoy.

This was when things started to go awry.

—Giovanni De Feo, The Mansion of Dreadful Night

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