Tuesday, October 31, 2017

House of Hell Intermission: The Port of Peril

With the magazine version of House of Hell behind me, and the book version ahead of me, I thought it would be nice to take a bit of a detour and try out The Port of Peril.  One of the bad things about blogging so much is that my leisure time is kind of dictated by my blogging schedule: it's hard to justify playing a new gamebook when I'm supposed to be playing and writing about the old ones.  So I took this opportunity to work it into the schedule for a quick one-off: after all, it's been a damn long time since Ian Livingstone wrote a new book set in Allansia, and that's definitely something worth making room in my schedule for.

My first impression of the book left me - how shall I say this diplomatically? - unimpressed.  The cover is alright, and I like the shiny gold spine, but the quality of the interior leaves a lot to be desired.  The new publishers of the series, Scholastic, are using a new style of illustration, supposedly one that's more in tune with the kids of today.  Well, I ain't no kid of today, and the washed out, second-generation photocopy look of the new books doesn't cut it for me, no sir.  My car gets forty rods to the hogshead and that's the way I likes it!

The interiors aren't helped by the terribly cheap paper quality, and the weird smudging and ink blotches that permeate the thing.  I think they were going for a treasure map aesthetic, but it's so unattractive that I was convinced that my book was some sort of misprint.  But nope, apparently they're all like that.

But really, the illustrations and the cover and the paper quality are all sideshows for the main event.  Let's delve into this sucker and see what me old mate Ian Livingstone's cooked up this time.


The book begins with a pretty lengthy infodump about Chalice (which I think is new info, but I'm not sure).  It's to this town that the hero, your standard FF gold-hungry treasure-seeker arrives, having spent a month in the Pagan Plains seeking the legendary treasure of Throm the barbarian.  (Which begs the question, just what was Throm doing in Deathtrap Dungeon if he already had a legendary treasure?)

After some time sleeping in alleyways, scrounging for food and doing odd jobs, the hero comes across two buffoons arguing over a treasure map.  They discard the map as useless, but the hero picks it up and sees that it leads to a cave in the Moonstone Hills, where there might just be a treasure chest waiting.  There was also a note by a Murgat Shurr, with some instructions about finding the chest. It's time to head out into the wilderness, but first the hero needs to find some food and shelter...


It's the standard FF Skill/Stamina/Luck triad, with no weird additions to the rules.  I rolled Skill 12, Stamina 22 and Luck 7, which could be either great or terrible.  It's difficult to know without prior experience of the adventure.  Still, you can't scoff at a Skill of 12, especially in a Livingstone joint.

My starting gear was a sword, leather armour, a shield, a backpack, ten provisions and the usual choice of one of three potions.  I went with the Potion of Fortune, to offset my terrible Luck score.

(At this point I'll note that the rules are at the back of the book, which I disapprove of, for no other reason than that it's different than the way it used to be.)


After a night spent sleeping on some old flour sacks, I went over my gear.  Not only did I have the stuff outline above, but I was also in possession of the following knick-knacks: a ball of twine, a candle, a small brass bell, an oil lantern, a knife, a piece of chalk, a brass owl, a length of rope, a bag of copper nails, an animal-skin water flask, and a goblet bearing a unicorn motif.  (I had to laugh at this bit.  By filling your inventory so early, I feel like Ian Livingstone has just out-Livingstoned himself.  It's like a mad work of self-parody.)

After a quick bit of bin-diving for a tomato sandwich (and the bizarre restoration of 1 Stamina point that I had no way of previously losing), I saw a middle-aged man sweeping the town square with a broom.  I approached the man, and traded him my copper nails for some bread and honey which I ate with gusto (restoring yet more Stamina that I could never have lost).  At that point the man offered to trade me some snake oil (supposedly protection against snake bites) for a ball of twine, which I did instantly.  It was only afterwards that I realised that I may have been had by a genuine snake-oil salesman, but then again this could just be a Livingstone double-bluff.  That oil could be the genuine article, who knows?

After that the man tried to trade me some skunk oil for my brass owl, and that's where I tapped out.  There's only so long that I can be taken for a ride, and it was time to get away from this guy and get to adventuring.

There were three paths leading away from the market square, and I chose to go west down Silver Street. I soon came to a jeweller's shop, and ducked inside.  The jeweller offered to buy any treasure I might have, but as I had nothing I excused myself and left.  (I could have sold him a "gold rabbit charm", which I suspect I might have obtained had I kept trading items to the snake-oil salesman.)

Silver Street ended at a T-junction, where a rag-and-bone man was riding past in a horse-drawn cart.  I hailed him, and he offered to give me a ride to the main gate for a copper piece.  As much as I was eager to get the hell out of Chalice (and I mean me, the author of the blog), I decided that I should keep exploring, and walked back to the market square to head north down Armoury Lane.  (Besides, I didn't have any money.)

Along Armoury Lane I found Cy's, the local armoury run by a friendly cyclops.  Cy was renowned for his magnificent swords, but when I asked him about buying one he told me that it would be a three year wait.  I didn't have that sort of time, nor did I have the money to buy the Demon Dagger that he offered me.  The thought of killing Cy and taking his stuff crossed my mind, but I quickly dismissed it, and left the shop to continue along Armoury Lane.

At the end of the lane I came to a timber yard.  I spoke to the owner, and was offered 2 gold pieces to help Olaff - an Ogre - load some wooden beams.  Being short of cash I took the job, which proved somewhat exhausting (reducing my Stamina to 21).  To top it off, the owner and his Ogre friend tried to get away with not paying me.  In return, I paid them in the currency of cold, hard steel, by killing the Ogre.  The Ogre had an iron key and 5 copper pieces, which I pocketed.  The owner tried to appease me by giving me another 10 coppers, and 3 gold pieces.  It worked (although it wouldn't have if I'd been given the choice of murdering the sod).

I walked back to the square and down Beggar's Lane, which - surprise - was full of beggars.  I flipped 3 coppers to some beggars before heading for the far end of the alley.  (I had the option here of asking about a "Gurnard Jaggle", but I didn't take it because I had absolutely no idea what this was in reference to.)

Near the end of the alley I passed by a gloomy-looking house with a barrel by the front door.  I knocked on the door, which was answered by a large bald man who proceeded to club me over the head with a chair leg (reducing my Stamina to 19).  I decided against further investigating, and made my way to the end of the alley.  (I kind of love how this guy just answers the door with chair leg in hand.)

The alley connected to Lion Street, where there were some houses, some shops, and a large mansion protected by a wall.  I considered climbing the wall, but it was much too tall, and I didn't want to trouble the nearby bakers to give me a boost.  Instead I took a closer look at the houses, and (after a failed Luck test that reduced my score to 6) I was struck on the head by a chamber pot hurled from a window above (leaving me with a Stamina of 17).

Examining the various shops on Lion Street, I entered a locksmith's, where the proprietor sold me a bunch of random keys for 1 gold piece.  If this was real life I'd be pretty sure that I'd been ripped off, but in Fighting Fantasy, you take whatever keys you find, regardless of implausibility.

With that done, it was finally time to head for the main gates and leave Chalice.  After walking through a cornfield and getting a look at Darkwood Forest far to the north, I turned east to head for Skull Crag in the Moonstone Hills.  The sound of galloping hooves and a hunting horn put me on alert, but I decided to stand my ground and meet their owner.  A black-robed horseman thundered down the track towards me, and I was forced to leap aside (which I did with a successful Luck test).  I took the opportunity to steal some corn (restoring my Stamina to 18) before moving on.

It was getting dark, so I decided to hole up in a ruined cottage.  Rather than exercise any form of caution, I barged through the front door and interrupted a pair of Man-Orcs in the middle of their rat dinner.  They both attacked, but I killed them in short order.  Their loot was mostly worthless: a copper piece, seven teeth, a silver button, a glass eye, an arrowhead, and three polished stones.  I took them all.  The cottage also contained some large jars of various substances, but I could only fit one in my pack, so I took the jar of sheep eyeballs.

There was also a trapdoor that was bolted shut.  I opened it up and was assaulted by the stench of rotted meat, and the sound of dragging feet.  That there was a Zombie, but I was not deterred from descending the rickety stairs.  When I was about halfway down, a hand grabbed my ankle from the shadows, and (due to a failed Luck test) the Zombie bit through my boot.  I wasn't killed, but the virus transmitted through its saliva turned me into a Zombie before the end of the day.  My adventure, such as it was, was over.


Well, I only have myself to blame for that death.  I shouldn't have been poking around in a Zombie-infested basement, and I certainly shouldn't have been going down their with a Luck score of 5.  I had the Potion of Fortune, and that was the time to use it.

To be honest, though, I really just wanted the adventure to be over, because I wasn't enjoying it.  I was all set for an Allansian adventure by legend-of-my-childhood Ian Livingstone, but I wasn't feeling this one. For whatever reason, the old magic wasn't there.

It started with inconsistencies right off the bat.  Why am I scrounging for food at the start of the adventure?  I have a backpack full of provisions, and am no more or less well-equipped than any other Fighting Fantasy adventurer.  Why is there a Stamina gain in the opening paragraph?  Why didn't my starting equipment list all of those little knicky-knacks I was loaded down with?  None of these are important from a gameplay perspective, and they're not deal-breakers, but the little details are nevertheless important.  They also play into the slow start of the book.  If I'm fully equipped, why am I pissing around in Chalice doing odd jobs?  There's a treasure map to follow!  I suspect that the quest for the treasure is a preamble to whatever the main quest ends up being, but man, you don't need a preamble for the preamble.  I really wanted to get out of Chalice and get on with it.

The writing itself was a let-down as well.  I've read a ton of the man's work, but the prose didn't feel like Ian's at all.  Perhaps his writing style has evolved over the years, but  I'd expect at least some level of familiarity.  It felt very dumbed down, to be honest, with inane conversations and phrases that are really out of place in a medieval fantasy setting (breakfast of champions?).

Now I'm going to get really nit-picky, because there were a couple of touches that pulled me out due to inconsistency with earlier books.  The first was the presence of copper pieces, which have never been commonplace in any Allansian-set book I've ever read (and are a needless complication, really).  The second was the zombie virus, which I'm going to give the benefit of the doubt and say that it's tied into the main plot.  Even if it is, it's just disappointingly derivative.  I would have thought Ian would've gotten that stuff out his system in his last book.

Gah, I sound like such a negative prick.  I hate to come down on the book so hard, but I honestly found it to be meandering and tedious.  I'm sure it picks up later on, once the main plot gets going.  This isn't a review of the book, as I haven't experienced enough of it to give an informed opinion.  It's more of a first impression.  That first impression was a negative one, but I'm more than willing to be swayed once I give the book its proper due.  At my current rate, that should be some time in 2041...

NEXT: It's back to modern-day Earth, for the book version of House of Hell.  I promise to be more positive about that one.

Friday, September 29, 2017

House of Hell (preview): Final Thoughts

In back-to-back issues of Warlock magazine, we have one adventure by Ian Livingstone, and another by Steve Jackson, both of which were intended as previews for their forthcoming books.  I've said it before, but these two adventures sum up Jackson's and Livingstone's approach to writing gamebooks pretty well.  Warlock #2 featured Ian's preview of Caverns of the Snow Witch, in which Ian chopped out the first half of the book, changed the ending a little, and called it a day.  The House of Hell preview from Warlock #3 is a different beast altogether.  Not content with just turning in a shortened version of the adventure, Jackson redesigned it, shuffled things around, changed the ending, and gave us an experience that is similar to the book, but different enough to be worth looking at.

That said, the design of House of Hell means that it would have been almost impossible to do it the way Ian did it for Caverns.  It just doesn't break up into neat sections the way that Caverns does, and there are no convenient choke-points where you could leave it with a "to be continued".  House of Hell is a complex design, and a rewrite seems to me to be the only viable way of providing a cut down version.

Given that it's half as long, it's inevitable that the preview version is far less of a complex design than the book.  It's been streamlined into a much more linear experience.  Even so, Jackson has found room to add some all-new material.  If you pull the bell-rope at the beginning, you'll play through a whole new section that's not in the book, but gives a quick glimpse of some areas and characters that are important there.  It does what a preview should: shows you most of the things you'll experience in the complete version, while not revealing all of its secrets.

I should probably stop comparing this adventure to its full-length counterpart, and focus on its actual content, but it's a little hard to do that when I'm so familiar with the original.  I also want to leave myself with something to say when I get to the book version.  What I'll say is this: if you're a fan of House of Hell, the magazine preview is worth tracking down.  It has the same atmosphere and nightmarish qualities as the book, but is different enough to provide some genuine surprises.  As for the rest, I'll save it for the full-length review (although much of what I would have said ended up in the S.T.A.M.I.N.A. Rating below).


I covered most of the areas in this adventure.  About the only thing I wasn't able to do was defeat the vampire, and that just leads right to the cult sacrifice and the end-game.


This is a tight adventure, and I only found two items that serve no purpose: some belladonna, and a valuable book of medieval artwork.

As for mistakes, there's one big one in paragraph 12.  You are trying to sneak past the cultists and escape, and must Test Your Luck, but the results have been mixed up, and being Lucky results in the cultists catching you.


This has seven instant deaths, which is a fair number for a short adventure.  All of them are pretty good, but for sheer antagonism I have to go with the following:

I love it when the gamebook narrator gets insulting, and "You deserved to die!" is one of the all-time greats.


Story and Setting: On paper, it's a haunted house adventure with a big bad to kill at the end, and a host of ghost story cliches.  In execution it's pure horror, presented about as graphically as can be done in a book for kids.  There are cliches aplenty, but the relish with which Jackson and artist Tim Sell depict them elevates the adventure far beyond most others of its type.  The story is presented piecemeal, and the background of the house is never quite laid out in full, but that just adds to its air of mystery.  It also leaves a lot of room for speculation, which I'm a fan off.  Rating: 5 out of 7.

Toughness: This is a challenging adventure, and it's almost certain that multiple play-throughs will be required.  As usual with Jackson's adventures, the challenge comes from a well-hidden path to victory rather than a reliance on difficult battles.  The only part of the challenge that I feel has been a little misjudged is the Fear score; a low roll can result in a very short adventure.  That said, you can beat it with minimum stats, and that's always a bonus.  Rating: 5 out of 7.

Aesthetics: It's a haunted house with goat-headed Satan worshippers, what more can you want?  Jackson's prose is atmospheric, if a little excitable at times.  As for Tim Sell, I waver back and forth.  His style almost verges on goofy at times, and I find myself thinking that it's a poor fit.  But then I see his depictions of those aforementioned cultists, and I remember just how much they freaked me out when I was ten.  It's a weird blend of cartoonish and terrifying, and I can't quite put my finger on why it works, but it does so in a way that I'm not sure a more traditional horror artist would.  This loses points for the format, though: a magazine is never ideal for gamebooks, and this one also has a whopping great boardgame breaking it up in the middle.  Rating: 5 out of 7.

Mechanics: The Fighting Fantasy rules are always good for a solid rating, and House of Hell uses them well.   The Fear score is the major new element, and it's one that I have some problems with.  Exploration is kind of the meat of the gamebook experience, and the Fear mechanic actively discourages it.  It also results in some absurd deaths, which is good for a laugh but not so much fun when it brings your adventure to an abrupt halt.  Rating: 5 out of 7.

Innovation and Influence: This is the first horror-themed Fighting Fantasy, and the first to be set in the modern day.  It also introduces the Fear mechanic.  Rating: 5 out of 7.

NPCs and Monsters: On the monster side of things, we have a lot of old horror stand-bys: ghosts, zombies, a vampire, and evil cultists.  While they're perhaps a bit over-familiar, they're presented here as sources of sheer terror, rather than simple monsters, and that goes a long way to making them feel fresh.  Given the subject matter you'd think that there would be more complex characters here than in the usual FF, but that's not really true.  Franklins the butler, the Earl of Drumer, the hunchback, the prisoner in grey, and various ghosts provide plenty of variety, but they're not that deep given that this is a half-length adventure.  It feels like there's more to them, and you can piece some of the backstory together, but it never quite coheres.  Rating: 5 out of 7.

Amusement: I love House of Hell, and the Satanic horror themes that it depicts.  It's grim, it's bloody, it's unnerving, and it revels in every second of it.  This shortened version is perhaps a little too brief and linear, but it's still very enjoyable.  Rating: 6 out of 7.

With some reluctance, I'm not going to give this one the bonus point.  It's an enjoyable alternative to House of Hell, but in the future I'll still be far more likely to bust out the original.  The above scores total 36, which doubled gives a S.T.A.M.I.N.A. Rating of 72 (just under City of Thieves).  It feels a little high for such a short adventure, but what do you expect when its source material is one of the best gamebooks of all time?  (Also, I feel like I might have have-arsed things by giving almost every category a score of 5, but that's just how it came out.  What can I say, it's an adventure that excels in all areas, but I had to leave some room for the full-length version.)

NEXT: For my next post I'm taking a detour into Port of Peril, Ian Livingstone's most recent joint.  After that, it's back to radical goat-headed Satanists with House of Hell, the book.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

House of Hell (preview) - Attempts 7 to 9

In my last post, I outlined a plan of action for the opening stages of the preview version of House of Hell.  Over the course of my first six attempts, I felt as though I'd covered pretty much everything, and had worked out the best path to progress forward and defeat the Vampire, and ultimately the Earl of Drumer.  As it turns out, these next three attempts showed me a few things that I'd been missing, and a new path that had been previously hidden.

That's getting into spoiler territory, though, and best left for the actual write-up of my adventures.  Onward!

Attempt 7

 For this attempt I rolled Skill 7 (reduced to 4 for being unarmed), Stamina 20, Luck 9 and Fear 12.  Already I was off to a bad start.  My plan involved fighting a pair of Great Danes, as well as a Zombie, and a Skill of 4 wasn't going to cut it.

So, in the interests of getting my hands on a weapon, I chose the bell-pull at the beginning of the adventure and was dumped into the cellar.  I had an amicable meeting with the hunchback Shekou, who led me back to the ground floor, where I failed to sneak quietly up a staircase.  This alerted Franklins the butler to my presence, and made my whole trip down below pointless.  I'd been caught before finding any weapons, and would have to contend with the adventure with an effective Skill of 4.

After that I did the usual schtick: dining with the Earl, getting myself drugged on purpose, escaping and meeting the ghost bride.  Following that I went downstairs to the library, where I found the pentacle (which grants power over devil-worshippers), and opened a secret door.

I'd gone this way in previous adventures, and rescued a man in grey who was a former servant of the Earl.  What I hadn't explored much was a pantry, containing all sorts of food: cakes, bread, fish, fruit, cheese, and wine.  I had come here before, but hadn't tried any of the food.  This time I tried everything except for cheese and red wine, as I was well aware that those were drugged.  It was fairly rewarding: most of the things you can eat provide a Stamina boost, and the wine knocks off 2 points of Fear at the cost of a point of Skill.  With a more competent character that would be a good trade-off, but it was a bad idea for Steve Urkel over here, who was left with a Skill of 3.

With that in mind, I decided not to risk rescuing the man in grey, and went back upstairs.  My chances with the Great Danes weren't looking good either, but I knew that I needed that garlic.  So in I went to the room with the dead old lady, and proceeded to wake her up and provoke her until she set her dogs on me.

I prepared myself for an early end, but for once in my life the dice were in my favour.  Sure, I was left with 3 points of Stamina, but beating two Great Danes to death with my bare hands is pretty impressive for a guy with a Skill of 3.  I rewarded myself with some garlic and belladonna, and made for the next encounter.

Next stop was to fight the Zombie in the unmarked room, which I had second thoughts about once I got there.  Those second thoughts were moot, however, because once you're in that room there's no getting out without a fight.  I had to suffer the automatic damage that comes from being surprise attacked by a zombie hiding behind a curtain, and then the bugger killed me in the first round of combat.

All in all, a highly unsuccessful adventure, but a failure that was no fault of mine.  That Skill of 7, coupled with a failed Luck test that stopped me from finding a weapon, was what did me in.

Attempt 8

For attempt number 8, I rolled Skill 9, Stamina 20, Luck 9 and Fear 11.  That's a proper Joe Average character, albeit one with a high tolerance for scares.  Thankfully stats aren't all-important in this adventure, so I was reasonably confident of getting to that vampire and finally doing him in.

Once again I chose the bell-pull path, but while waiting for Shekou I did a quick search of the cellar, looking for a weapon.  A successful Luck test turned up a branch about the size of a baseball bat, which I proceeded to lug around for the remainder of the adventure.  (Who knows what the Earl of Drumer was thinking through our dinner, or why he didn't take the damn thing off me while I was unconscious.)

Following that I took the same options as in Attempt 7, including raiding the pantry for some wine to offset my Fear.  I gave the Great Danes a good old thrashing, and did the same for the Zombie, claiming the garlic, the belladonna and a key marked '114'.

Soon after that I was near my goal, with a choice of two doors: the Astor Room and the Master Suite.  I knew that the vampire was in the Master Suite, but I wanted to check out the Astor Room again.  I'd been in there before, but it had been so uneventful that I was suspicious.

The Astor Room had nothing in it except for a bed, but there was music playing from an unknown source.  As I explored the room I heard footsteps approaching fro outside, and I decided to find a place to hide.  After a successful Luck test I hit on the idea of jumping under the bed-covers.  It seemed like a terrible plan to me, but what's the worst that could happen?

As it turned out, the worst was something completely unexpected.  The moment I was cozy in bed, it flipped up and deposited me in a chute, and I tumbled downstairs into a bad, bad scene.  A scene so bad that it got censored out of the book version (well, the scene didn't get censored, but the illustration sure did).

Thank God for that considerate cultist covering her boobs.  Some kids might really have been scarred by this.

From a hidden alcove I watched on as about forty goat-headed cultists prepared to sacrifice a young woman.  This is the sort of situation where a hero might leap out and rescue the fair maiden, but I wasn't a hero.  I was Joe Average with a tree branch.  Besides, if there's one life lesson that gamebooks have taught me, it's that you DON'T MESS WITH DUDES WEARING GOAT HEADS FOR HATS.

So rather than mount a rescue, I tried to look for another way out.  There was another passageway leading from the chamber, and there was a possibility I'd be able to sneak through it if I was careful.  Alas, I wasn't careful enough, and one of the cultists spotted me.  (I wonder how.  It's dark down here, and peripheral vision in those goat hats has got to be terrible.)

Luckily for me, I had a secret weapon: the pentacle.  I whipped it out (by turning to entry 66), and its power compelled the devil-worshippers to let me by unharmed.  Maybe I could have used it to make them free the girl as well, but no sense pushing things too far.  The line between heroism and death is a fine one.

I emerged into a room with two doors, and chose the door on the right.  It was locked, but I was able to open it with my numbered key.  It was the dining-room, where I had previously taken supper with the Earl of Drumer.  A quick search of the room didn't reveal anything (because I failed a Luck test), so I pulled a rope to summon the butler.

Franklins entered quickly, and after I demanded to see the Earl he rushed off to fetch him.  The Earl was super-pissed at being disturbed in the middle of the night, which I find a bit weird given the circumstances.  Was he really asleep?  While a load of cultists were doing ritual sacrifices in his basement?  It's the sort of thing I'd expect a master of evil to be awake for.

Eight buttons.  Seriously.

Anyway, I'd had enough of the ghostly shenanigans going on in the house, so I attacked the Earl with my branch.  It was useless; only the Kris Knife could harm him, and I hadn't found it.  Alas, my life ended, strangled to death by a man in a smoking jacket and a cravat.  (And like, eight buttons on his trousers?  Going to the toilet has got to be difficult.)

Attempt 9

I'd been diverted from my goal of defeating the vampire during my last attempt, but I had an inkling that I might just have discovered a better way of reaching the endgame.  For my next character I rolled Skill 12, Stamina 20, Luck 8 and Fear 10.

With my Skill at the peak of human capacity, I ignored the bell-pull and went straight into dining with the Earl of Drumer.  After being drugged I powered through the ghost bride encounter, claimed the pentacle from the library, and reset my Fear score with some wine from the pantry.  I didn't bother fighting the Great Danes, as I wasn't going to be encountering the vampire, but I did make a point of taking out the Zombie and claiming the key to the dining-room.

After that I made for the Astor Room, climbed into the bed, and was dumped down the chute.  (As I had previously suspected, this bed is no doubt the subject of the message you see in the library, 'Beware the astorbed".  More on that in my next post.)  Once again I got past the cultists with the pentacle, and was faced with a choice of two rooms.

This time I chose the door to the left, and entered a drawing room with a table in the centre and a full-length mirror.  I was shocked to see that the mirror cast no reflection (which raised my Fear score to 4), and when I tried to touch it my hand passed right through.  This was no doubt intriguing, but before passing all the way through I decided to fully explore the drawing-room.

It was lucky I did, because in a secret compartment in the table I found a leather box.  Before I could open the box there were footsteps from outside, so I grabbed the box and jumped through the mirror, where I emerged in a small room.  There I took the chance to open the box, and inside I found the Kris Knife!  Huzzah!  Now, all I needed was to get back to the dining-room...

I waited until things were quiet, and stepped back through the mirror and out of the drawing-room.  Using my key I unlocked the dining-room, and summoned the butler for the final confrontation.

Once more I faced the irate Earl of Drumer, but I had come prepared.  With my Skill of 12, and the Kris Knife, he was hopelessly outmatched.  He put in a decent late flurry, hitting me twice, but the result was never in doubt.

My final blow sent the Earl stumbling into a chandelier, which set the room ablaze.  I smashed a window with a chair and leaped to safety, then watched in satisfaction as the house went up in an enormous blaze of fire.  And ghosts, apparently.  I had survived, and destroyed the evil of the House of Hell!

I should have torched this place much earlier.


Yes!  Success!

Still, as happy as I am to have beaten this adventure, I'm a little disappointed that I made a big plan for defeating the vampire and then never got to see it through.  On the other hand, by-passing him makes for a much easier adventure, with a lot of risks that can be avoided.  But for all I know beating the vampire just leads to certain death further on, so maybe it's all for the best.

To be honest, I almost feel like I cheated to win.  I didn't, of course.  This blog has a strict non-cheating policy.  But my discovery of the winning path was so accidental that I don't quite feel like I earned it.

Anyway, that's pretty much it for House of Hell.  Except, hang on a second...  The next book on my list is House of Hell?  Yep, based strictly on release order, I'd be following the magazine preview version of House of Hell with the complete book version of House of Hell.  That's far from ideal, so I'm going to take a minor detour first.  After my next post, which will be a wrap-up on this adventure, I'm going to do a single post on the newest FF book, Port of Peril.

If any of you aren't aware, Scholastic Books has taken up the series, and along with some old classics they've released a new adventure by Ian Livingstone, Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.  It's the first genuinely new fantasy adventure from Ian since Legend of Zagor, and the first one set in Allansia since Return to Firetop Mountain, so I'm pretty excited about it.  (I'm not counting Eye of the Dragon, since it was heavily based on his adventure from Dicing With Dragons.) I'm going to have one go at it, do a single blog on that one adventure, then it'll be back to the regular schedule.  I have no idea what Port of Peril is about, but given the name I'm anticipating a return to Port Blacksand, maybe?  That would be way cool, and I'm really looking forward to cracking it open.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

House of Hell (preview) - Attempts 4 to 6

Here I am with three more attempts at the House of Hell preview from Warlock Magazine, the first three cracks at it that I've had since May.  For anyone wondering how successful I've been, well...  I've failed at least twice, haven't I?  It makes writing about attempts 4 and 5 a bit pointless, but I'm going to do it anyway, because I'm nothing if not pointlessly thorough.  So let's do it!  (As usual with later attempts, I'll be skimming past things I've covered previously, so check earlier posts if I reference something you're not familiar with.)

Attempt 4

My stats for this game were a mixed bag: Skill 7 (reduced to 4 due to a lack of weapons), Stamina 17, Luck 12 and Fear 9.  With a character like this I'd usually exercise caution, but that's not what's needed right now.  What I need to do is explore the options I haven't checked out yet, and that means that caution can bugger off.  It's time to go looking for trouble.

So, at the front door of the house I rang the bell and was greeted by Franklins the butler.  While waiting for him to fetch the master of the house, I looked at the one portrait in the entry hall that I had yet to check: the old woman.  It was a portrait of 'The Duchess of Brewster: 1777-1845', a woman so old and ugly that Our Hero was found wondering how she ever landed a husband.  Keep it classy, Fighting Fantasy.

He's not wrong though.

The portrait was otherwise without interest (and really, why is the least relevant portrait the one that gets an illustration?), so I waited for the arrival of the Earl of Drumer, after which we ate together.  I avoided the red wine and the cheese, thus making it through the meal without being drugged, and was then led to a bedroom by Franklins.  (This bedroom is the Fortesque Room, which is curiously absent from the landing outside once you begin exploring the house.)

The room had a single bed, and the windows were barred.  I decided to look through the window before going to bed, and what I saw was a shock: hanging by his neck from a tree was the old man from the village, the very same one who had given me the directions that led me to the house.  (This raised my Fear by a whopping 3 points, a full third of my total.  Seems a bit of a harsh punishment for simply looking out a window, but it ain't House of Hugs, is it?)

Vest. Shirt. Skullet. No trousers.

I fled from the room onto the landing, and turned right to meet the ghost bride, find out a bit about the house, and watch her get eaten by ghost dogs.  (Seeing her also raised my Fear to 4.  Ghost dogs?  Not scary at all.)

Heading back along the landing I ignored the Albemarle Room and went into the Rousseau Room.  Inside were a lot of crates covered by sheets.  One of the sheets rose into the air, making me think it was a ghost, but on further inspection I saw that it was being pulled up on a string.  (I'm pretty sure now that neither of these rooms has anything worthwhile in them.)

I ignored the stairs heading down, and continued to a junction where I turned left.  At the end of the passage was the 'Lucretia Room', which I entered to find an old lady sleeping in a bed.  I say sleeping, but when I touched her she was dead.  (Which raised my Fear to 6.)  Suddenly her eyes flicked open, and she sat up.  I decided to stick around and see what she would do.  She demanded that I leave, but instead I interrogated her about the house.  As far as she was concerned it was no business of mine, and at her signal a wall slid open to reveal a pair of Great Danes.  (I like to imagine that this is Scooby-Doo and one of his terrible cousins, having switched sides in the war against the supernatural.)

Alone and unarmed, I faced off against a pair of Great Danes, and to be honest I fared better than I would have expected.  It went right down to the wire: in the last round the second Great Dane had 2 points of Stamina remaining, and I had 1.  The dice betrayed me though, and I was mauled to death by, like, Scooby-Dum or one of those other ridiculous late additions to the franchise.

Attempt 5

This game saw me with stats of Skill 12 (reduced to 9 due to a lack of weapons), Stamina 14, Luck 9 and Fear 10.  Normally I'd be stoked with a Skill of 12, but it's somewhat irrelevant in House of Hell.  I'd much rather swap the Fear and Skill scores around.  (Sometimes when I'm playing Fighting Fantasy books I don't roll the dice in order; instead I'll roll the number of dice I need and arrange the numbers as I like.  Never for the blog, though.  The blog is a sacred no-cheating zone.  Except I might do it for Crypt of the Sorcerer.)

Okay, this time I rang the bell, ignored the paintings, and made it through the meal with the earl without being drugged.  In the bedroom I went to bed instead of looking through the window, and had dreams about being chased by an asphyxiating cloud.  When I woke up, I found that I was being smothered to death by my pillow and bed-sheets (which raised my Fear to 2).  I had to fight my way out (by rolling under my Skill on two dice), and once I escaped I wasted no time in running out of the room and onto the landing.

(What I've discovered here is that you're actually better off being drugged.  The worst that happens to you there is a slight loss of Stamina, or a point of Luck.  Here you're guaranteed to gain at least 2 Fear points, and that's far more detrimental.)

From there I encountered the ghost bride (Fear raised to 3), then ignored the Albemarle and Rousseau Rooms and headed downstairs to explore the library.  In the library I saw a ghost pen writing a cryptic message (raising my Fear to 4): "Beware the astorbed".

I decided to peruse some of the books, and was given a choice between a volume on black magic and one on hypnotism.  Having read the black magic book on a previous attempt, I chose the book about hypnotism.  On the front was a detailed drawing of an eye, and when I looked at it my head was filled with screams of agony (raising my Fear to 6.)  I was compelled to keep staring at the eye, but with great will (and a roll under my Skill on two dice) I was able to wrench myself away.

After that I fled from the library and back upstairs, where I once again checked out the old dead lady in the 'Lucretia Room'.  Rather than touch her gently, I instead opted to attack her reposing form before she could get the drop on me.  She shot up before I could bludgeon her with a classic overhead double-fisted chop (raising my Fear to 9).  Once again it led to me fighting a pair of Great Danes, but this time I killed them with some god-damn kung fu.  The old lady continued uttering threats, but I ignored her and got to looting.  I found some garlic and some belladonna, both of which are handy in a horror setting.

Heading back down the other passage, I entered the 'Gordelia Room', a bedroom strewn with women's clothing.  After a quick search of the room I found a box on the mantel, and an old photo in the fireplace.  I bent over to look at the photo, but before I could grab it, a pot plant was smashed over my head (reducing my Stamina to 11).

When I got to my feet, there was a rustling from the curtains.  They opened!  Then they shut!  The horror!  Anyway, it was enough to raise my Fear to 10, which meant that I dropped dead.  Because of some opening curtains.  As great as this gamebook is, the Fear mechanic means that it has some of the dumbest ways to die in the entire series

Attempt 6

In my final attempt for this post, I rolled a Skill of 8 (reduced to 5 due to a lack of weapons), a Stamina of 19, a Luck of 11, and a Fear of 9.  Good, ordinary scores.  After two failures, I was keen to really go off the beaten path, so rather than ring the bell at the beginning, I yanked the bell-pull and was sent tumbling through a trap-door and into a pile of hay in an underground cellar.  (This raised my Fear to 1, and after a Luck test to avoid serious injury, it also reduced my Stamina to 17 and my Luck to 10.)

I could hear shuffling coming from outside, so I quickly searched the room for a weapon.  Luck wasn't with me though, and I found nothing (and my Luck was reduced to 9.)  Quickly I hid in a corner as a hunchback entered the room.  Already stressed out from my car crash and a surprise fall through a trap-door, I decided to take out my frustrations on the hunchback, and leaped to the attack.  He was stronger than me (injuring me four times and reducing my Stamina to 9), but I was able to outlast him and knock him unconscious.  There was nothing to loot on his body, though, so I left the cellar and ran down a hallway.

I decided against entering a door to my left, due to some muttering coming from behind it, and continued into a chamber with stairs leading up.  That wasn't the only thing in the room though: it was also home to colony of bats.  The bats swarmed around me, and I had to cover my head and run up the stairs (raising my Fear to 2.)

I emerged in a hallway lined with stuffed animal heads, but I decided not to look at them and instead climbed another stairway leading up to a first floor balcony.  I was able to climb the stairs without making a noise (with a successful Luck test that reduced my Luck to 8.)  From downstairs I heard a door open, so I ducked into the nearest room to hide.  The room was full of shelves containing all sorts of everyday objects.  I searched the shelves, and found a meat-knife which I could take to use as a weapon.  I also found a bottle of red liquid, which I avoided.  (It was probably red wine or blood, and neither of those are good to drink in House of Hell.)

There was a door at the back of the storeroom, which I opened.  I screamed as a corpse tumbled out (raising my Fear to 5), and fled from the room.

Collar. Cuffs.  Pants.  If he teamed up with the hanged guy, they'd have a full outfit.

Outside of the room I bumped into Franklins the butler, who angrily marched me back downstairs and ran off to fetch his master.  This is where the book gets back on track, and I went through the usual motions of dining with the Earl of Drumer (being sure to drink some sherry to reduce my Fear to 4).  I then chose to drink the red wine, which resulted in me being drugged and waking up in an empty room with my hands bound.  One broken window later (and an injured hand that reduced my Stamina to 7), I had cut my bonds and was free to explore the house.

That led to the ghost bride (raising my Fear back to 5), and from there I ignored the stairs down and turned right at the junction.  When faced with a choice of two doors, I ignored the "Gordelia Room" and entered the unmarked door.  The room inside had one wall covered in a strangely bulging curtain, and a box on the mantelpiece.  I wanted to open the box, but instead I investigated the curtain first.  (I was pretty nervous about curtains given my death in Attempt 5.)  I was prepared for something horrible, but not prepared enough, as a Zombie punched me from behind the curtain and knocked me over (reducing my Stamina to 5 and raising my Fear to 7).  It struck me another blow (leaving me with 3 Stamina), but I was able to finish it off with my meat-knife.

For some unknown reason I then ignored the box and tried to leave the room, but the door was locked (which raised my Fear to 8. Shouldn't my guy be getting used to this shit by now?)  Now I looked in the box, where I found the key to unlock the door, and another key marked with the number 114.  A numbered key you say!  I'll be having that.

Following the passage further, I came to the 'Astor Room' and the 'Master Suite'.  I checked out the Astor Room, which was empty except for a bed and a dressing table.  There was music playing from an unknown source, so I decided to search the room.  I didn't find anything, but soon there were footsteps from outside.  I hid behind the door to pounce on anyone who entered. the door-handle turned, but then whoever it was had second thoughts and left.  I decided against having a quick nap, and entered the 'Master Suite'.  (Perhaps this is the "astorbed" that the phantom pen in the library was warning me about.)

This room was plush, with a large chair facing a smouldering fireplace.  I entered the room, and someone spoke to me from the chair: "So! Our visitor is inquisitive, eh?  Perhaps our hospitality is not to your liking. Maybe you would like to see some more - shall we say - amusements?"

I realise that I typed this speech out in an earlier post, but I had to do it again.  Because it raised my Fear score to 9.  Which killed me.  Killed, by a spooky voice in italics.  Like I said above, this adventure has the dumbest ways to die, bar none.


While I didn't have any concrete success, I feel like I've explored most of the options in the early going, and have the best path figured out.  What I need to do is this:

  • Pull the bell-cord at the beginning if my Skill is low.  It results in a bit of Stamina loss, and 1 Fear point, but getting a weapon is vital in order to fight the great danes
  • Get myself drugged by the Earl of Drumer, to avoid the Fear penalties in the Fortesque Room.
  • Talk to the ghost bride.
  • I probably should go downstairs to the library to claim the pentacle that protects against cultists.  There's a Fear penalty here as well, but I reckon it's worth it.  I'm not sure if I need to rescue the Man in Grey from his cell, though.
  • Wake up the dead old lady in the Lucretia Room, kill her great danes, and claim the garlic and the belladonna.  There's a vampire ahead, so the garlic is a necessity.
  • Ignore the Gordelia Room and enter the unmarked room with the Zombie to claim the numbered key.  Numbered keys are not to be left behind.
  • Confront the vampire and his spooky italic voice with some garlic at the ready.

From there I'm in the dark, but it's good to know that I have the early going sorted out.  It seems to me that this version of the adventure is a lot more linear than than the book, which suits me fine at this point.  I'm hoping that the latter parts are straightforward as well, because I'm ready to move on.  My only concern is with the number of Fear points I'll rack up following this plan.  If I do everything on the list, that's already 9 points (I think).  I can cut out the trip through the cellar and the library, which reduces it to 7, which is more manageable, but I'm still worried that there are lots of Fear penalties to come after that.

Monday, August 14, 2017

House of Hell (preview) - Attempt 3

I'm back!  After several months of emotional hardship and too much pro-wrestling, it's well past time for me to start blogging again.  That's the catch with writing and feeling depressed - the writing makes me feel better, but feeling depressed makes me less inclined to write.  And regardless of my emotional state, it's always difficult to get back in the saddle after time off.  Luckily for me I have a bit of a leg-up: I already had a post half-written before my hiatus began.  Besides, you came here to read about gamebooks, which are no place for these things that humans call emotions.  I doubt that Steve and Ian have ever written about any emotion states deeper than "adventure" and "treasure".  So without further prevarication, I present to you my third attempt at completing the preview of House of Hell from Warlock #3.

This one will be short, because I did very poorly.  It almost seems pointless to write a post about such a short adventure, but I suppose that I must chronicle my failures along with my triumphs.  My many, many failures.  Let's get it over with.

It started reasonably well: I rolled a Skill of 11 (adjusted down to 8 because I have no weapons), a Stamina of 19, a Luck of 7 and a maximum Fear of 9.  They weren't great stats (the Luck in particular), but they were certainly workable.  I felt reasonably confident of at least making some genuine progress in unraveling the mysteries of the house.

At the front door, I ignored the bell-pull; it does open up a new area and provide a meeting with the hunchback, but it also results in an increase in Fear, so I rapped the knocker instead.  While waiting for the butler to fetch the master of the house I investigated the paintings, but instead of looking at the beautiful young woman, I investigated a painting of a portly, middle-aged gentleman.  His portrait was labelled 'The Duke of Brewster 1763-1828', and I was sure that his eyes were moving.  Sure enough, his eyes directed my attention to the front door of the house.  I tried the handle, and (as in a previous attempt) I received an electric shock (reducing my Stamina to 17).

The Earl of Drumer arrived and he offered me a meal.  I'd tried most of the options before, so this time I decided to refuse to eat altogether.  The Earl was outraged, and when I continued to refuse he ordered his butler to deal with me, which he did by activating some restraints on my chair and knocking me out with some chloroform.

I woke up in an empty room with my hands bound, but I was able to break a window and cut myself free.  (You can use Luck to avoid being damaged, but this time I opted not to bother, and sucked up the loss of 2 Stamina, which reduced my score to 15.)

On the landing outside, the book forced me to head right (apparently because I heard a squeaking noise coming from the left).  I encountered the ghost bride (raising my Fear to 1), but this time I decided to ignore her and turn back.

I could hear footsteps coming, and rather than return to the ghost bride I stood my ground. The footsteps got louder, until I was sure that whoever it was should be right in front of me, but I couldn't see anything.  (This raised my Fear to 2.) Suddenly there was a pain in my chest: my invisible foe was squeezing my heart! I had to fight this "Invisible Enemy" in order to break free and escape.  His Stamina was only 4, but with a Skill of 10 he managed to drain my Stamina all the way down to 5 before I was able to escape.

I ignored the 'Albemarle Room' and the 'Rousseau Room', and also opted not to go downstairs.  At the next junction I turned left, and was faced with two doors: one with no name-plate and another called the 'Gordelia Room'.  I entered the 'Gordelia Room', and found that it was a bedroom strewn with women's clothes.  On a mantelpiece I found some small boxes, and I also noticed a photo in the coals of the fireplace.  In the boxes I found a gold ring studded with rubies, with an inscription: "To dearest Margaret from George: 1834".

Suddenly the curtains started to rustle, and the window opened and shut of its own accord (increasing my Fear to 3).  As I was puzzling over it, I went to lean on the bed, but it moved and sent me sprawling to the floor (increasing my Fear to 4 and reducing my Stamina to 4.)  A chair suddenly rocketed towards me, and after a failed Luck test it banged into my shin (further increasing my Fear to 5, and leaving me with but 2 points of Stamina).  I fled from the room to escape the Poltergeist.

Aside from the unmarked room, I now had the option of continuing further along the passage; why couldn't I do this before?  Anyway, I took it, and came to two more doors: 'The Astor Room' and 'The Master Suite'.  I couldn't resist the 'Master Suite', which was an elegantly decorated bedroom with a smouldering fireplace.  As I entered, I heard a voice: "So! Our visitor is inquisitive, eh? Or are you trying to leave the house? Perhaps our hospitality is not to your liking. Maybe you would like to see some more - shall we say - amusements?"  Those italics must have been real scary, because this raised my Fear to 6.  I decided to stay and confront the owner of the voice, who it turned out was concealed in a high-backed chair facing the fireplace.

Dude has an evil haircut.

The man was pale, wore a cape and had a widow's peak, which are three of the four major signs of Vampirism (the other being unnaturally white teeth).  He asked me to step forward, but instead I decided to fight him.  (I wasn't given the option to run, which is what I should have done given my Stamina score.)  I looked through my items to see if any would be useful, and was pleased to see that my gold ring was an option.  I wasn't pleased for long, though; the ring granted him complete control over my mind, and he forced me to walk forward so that he could open my jugular with those unnaturally white teeth of his.

Well, another failure.  Surprisingly, it had nothing to do with my Fear score, which is the most common way to die in this adventure.  Having the ring was bad luck, but almost fortunate in a way: I would have lost a fight regardless, and now I know that I should ignore it.

I feel like I'm making zero progress.  Sure, I'm gradually exploring the rooms, and learning which ones to avoid, but I haven't gathered any important clues.  I've got no idea where the Kris Knife is (assuming it's not in the same spot it is in the book version).  I'm not exactly stumped, but I don't really know if I'm on the right track or not.

So, in the interests of refreshing myself on the book and avoiding retreading familiar ground, I'm going to go through the various areas of the house in point form and assess whether I need to explore them or not.

  • The knocker or the bell pull? Using the knocker takes you straight to a meeting with the Earl of Drumer, whereas using the bell-pull gets you there in a roundabout fashion that involves a meeting with a hunchback and an encounter with some growling stuffed animal heads. As far as I can tell these encounters serve no purpose except to drain your Stamina and drive up your Fear score, so I'm going to ignore them for now.  (Actually, the hunchback does let slip that the cheese is drugged, so I guess that's useful information.)
  • The paintings. There are three paintings that can be investigated while waiting for the earl. The woman's painting warns you to avoid drinking the red wine, but it also increases your Fear score, which is something best avoided. The painting of the old man has eyes that move, but as long as you don't try the electrified door handle he's harmless. The third painting is of an old woman, and I'll take a squizz at that one on my next attempt, just to make sure she's not hiding any vital info.
  • Dining with the Earl of Drumer. As far as I can tell, you end up in the same location regardless of whether you are drugged during the meal or not.  Still, it's probably better to get to that location without being tied up, and risking cutting your hands on broken glass to escape  I just need to remember to avoid the red wine and the cheese, because they're both drugged.  (I do love wine, though.  And cheese.  And drugs.  So much temptation.)
  • The ghost bride or the invisible man? You have to encounter one or the other after stepping out of the first room, and the ghost bride is definitely the better bet.  Yes, she increases your Fear score by 1, but she also gives you some vital hints about the Kris Knife.  The invisible man also increases your Fear as well as attacking you with a very high Skill score, and provides no benefits at all. 
  • The Albemarle Room. I'm pretty sure this is the room you wake up in/are escorted to after dining with the earl.  You can rest here and regain Stamina, but if you do you'll see a headless ghost that increases your Fear score by 2 points; if you stay and listen to what it has to say, it will increase your Fear by 4 points.  Best to avoid this one.
  • The Rousseau Room. This room is full of boxes, and a white sheet on a string that you may mistake for a ghost.  I never found anything of use in here, but I'm not sure if I explored it fully. I'll have to try this one again.
  • The study (downstairs). It's full of books, and you will also see a message written by an invisible hand: "beware the astorbed".  Seeing the message results in an increase of Fear, and is unavoidable if you enter the room. There's more to find here, though: a pentacle on a chain hidden inside a book, that apparently has power over devil-worshippers. I've yet to find a use for it, but it sounds like the sort of thing that's worth picking up.
  • The secret passage. If you keep searching the study you'll find a secret passage that leads to two rooms. One contains a bunch of different kinds of food, none of which I tried. The other is a cell where you can rescue a former follower of the earl, and get into a fight with some cultists. The prisoner has some worthwhile information, but I'm not sure that he's worth the risk.  I should probably come back here and try some of the food though. 
  • Gordelia Room. There's a ring on the mantelpiece in this room, the possession of which led to me being killed by the vampire as detailed above. There's also a photo in the ashes of the fireplace that I didn't get to investigate, because there's also a poltergeist that tries to strangle you with lady's undergarments.  Whether the risk is worth it is up to your own personal tastes, I suppose.
  • Unnamed room opposite 'Gordelia Room'. This room has a box on a mantelpiece, and a Zombie hiding behind a curtain. The last time I came hear the Zombie frightened me to death, and I never found out what the box contained. I need to come back here.
  • Lucretia Room. There's a dead old lady in a bed here, and investigating her body increases your Fear. Possibly there's more for me to discover, as I was frightened to death the last time I came here.
  • Master Suite: The vampire's in here, which seems to make this a good place to avoid.  You never know, though, defeating him could be the key to victory. And I never could pass up a spot of vengeance...
  • Paths not taken. It's possible that, by avoiding the hunchback, I could have done more exploration downstairs after using the bell-pull.  I'm quite sure that I've yet to explore the door opposite the Lucretia Room; it's also possible that the passage continues further in this direction, with the option only becoming available after exploring one of the two rooms.  There's also the Astor Room, opposite where the vampire lives.

So that's the extent of my exploration, which doesn't feel like much at all.  I feel like I needed to lay things out like this after so long away though, because otherwise I'd spend my next couple of games going over the same choices I had already made.  Now I have a plan of attack, and with any luck my next crack at House of Hell will be my last.  Stranger things have happened.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Brief Hiatus

Yes, I know it's been a while since I've posted here, but rest assured that the blog is not dead.  I still want to post, but the last couple of months have seen me dealing with some difficult personal issues and the emotional stress that comes with them.  I haven't had the mental energy or focus to do any sort of writing, or much of anything else to be honest.  The good news is that these issues are over, and and I'm in a good place right now.  I want to start blogging again soon.

The bad news (at least for readers waiting for the next post) is that the G1 Climax tournament is going on right now.  For those not in the know, it's a Japanese pro-wrestling tournament that is basically a solid month of hard bastards leathering the shit out of each other.  If WWE is the Nickelback of pro-wrestling, the G1 is like the Beatles, or a Mozart symphony.  Basically, it's great, but it also takes up a lot of my time, so I won't be getting back into writing until after it's done. So expect me back somewhere in mid-to-late August.

This is the part where I might ask for some monetary support, but let's be real here: what I write on the blog ain't worth charging money for.  But if you are looking for some more of my writing, I have a novel that's been available on Amazon for a few years. Jack Manley and the Warlord of Infinity is a fast-paced, B-movie sci-fi action adventure, and I have it on good authority that it's excellent (my Mum would never lie to me). So if you'd like to provide me with some lovely feel-good endorphins, please head over to Amazon and buy my book for the lovely price of 99 American.cents - it's totally worth it, and you can find it RIGHT HERE.

So, until my next post, I thank you for your patience (and ask you to forgive me for the blatant advertising).  I'll be back before you know it.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

House of Hell (preview) - Attempt 2

Last time, I racked up too many Fear points, and was scared to death by a Zombie.  Hopefully this time I'll do better, but that's the catch-22 of this gamebook: you have to look for clues, but looking around invariably increases your Fear.

For stats I rolled a Skill of 11, a Stamina of 16, a Luck of 10 and a maximum Fear of 8.  In another gamebook I'd be happy with those rolls, but Skill isn't all that important in House of Hell.  The vital stat here is Fear, and a Fear of 8 isn't going to last all that long.  I'll just have to do my best and try to rack up as many hints and clues as I can.

Okay, starting again: I took a wrong turn down a dirt road, crashed my car during a storm, and walked to a spooky house to ask to use their phone.  At the front door, I have the choice between using the doorknocker or the bell-pull.  Last time I used the knocker, and was invited inside by the butler.  This time I decided to use the bell-pull, and was surprised when a trap-door opened beneath my feet, and I fell down a few metres into a pile of hay.  (This increased my Fear to 1. I also had to Test my Luck to avoid hurting my wrist, which I did successfully, leaving me with a Luck of 9.)

I was in a cellar underneath the house, and there were footsteps approaching. I decided that I wouldn't have time to search for a weapon, so instead I hid behind the door and waited. The man who entered was a hunchback, and as he didn't look all that threatening I stepped forward and announced my presence. He told me to follow him, and as I did he started babbling about the Master expecting a guest, and having dinner laid out already. He also mentioned his specially matured cheese, which raised my suspicions.  (Seriously, never trust italics.  Something's always up when they come into play.)

Eventually we reached a door, and he gave me directions to go up into the house; he wasn't allowed upstairs himself. I entered the next chamber on my own, and soon received a shock, as I was swarmed by bats. I batted them away and raced up some nearby steps, shaken by the experience. (My Fear was increased to 2.)

The stairs ended at a hallway lined with animal heads, and I decided to explore further. The heads were all of dangerous beasts: a bear, a wolf, a tiger and a "serval" (a type of African wild cat). I could hear a growling noise, which gave me a fright (increasing my Fear to 3).

I guess the illustrator doesn't know what a serval is either.

I could also hear footsteps approaching. I decided to stand my ground and wait to see who it was. It was a butler named Franklins, and after I explained the situation he seemed to understand, and led me into the reception hall. Then he went to fetch his master, and it wasn't long before they both returned.

(At this point, the narrative had routed me back to where I would have gone had I used the door-knocker, although it didn't give me the chance to check the paintings in the reception hall.)

I was introduced to the Earl of Drumer, and we sat and shared brandy together. (A relaxing experience that reduced my Fear to 2.) Then we had a meal where I drank white wine, had a main course of duck, and finished up with fruit, coffee and brandy. (I didn't eat any cheese, due to the hunchback's italics from earlier.)

After the meal Franklins showed me to my room (labelled with a plaque as the Fortesque Room). I noticed that the windows were barred, but rationalised it as a way of keeping out intruders. I was tired after everything that had happened, so I climbed into bed and went to sleep.

In my dreams I was chased by a swirling cloud of gas, which caught up to me and caused me to cough and choke. I woke up, and found that my pillow and bedclothes were holding me down and smothering me to death. (An experience which increased my Fear to 4.) I was able to escape (by rolling under my Skill on two dice) and decided that it was time to get out of the house.

On the landing I turned right, and was confronted by the apparition of a young bride (increasing my Fear to 5). She beckoned me into a bedroom, where she told me about the evil Lord Kelnor, and that he could only be destroyed by the Kris Knife. Before she could finish her story she was attacked by ghostly Great Danes, and I ran away.

I decided to ignore her story, and escape from the house rather than help her. But rather than dash right down the stairs I decided to proceed cautiously. At the bottom of the stairs there were three doors. I tried the door on the right, but it was locked. The door on the left led into a study with many books. In the study I saw a message appear on a piece of paper: "beware the astorbed". (Seeing the message increased my Fear to 6.)

I read a book on black magic, inside of which I found a pentacle that supposedly had powers over devil-worshippers. (A find which restored my Luck to 10.) I decided to continue looking through the books, but instead I found a button at the back of the bookcase. Pressing the button revealed a secret passage, which I was too curious to ignore.

The narrow passage led to some stairs, and at the bottom was a choice of two doors. The door on the right was a food store, filled with bread, dried meat, cheese, fruit, fish, wine and cakes.  I wasn't hungry, so I left the food and opened the door opposite. The room beyond was a cell of some sort, and sleeping in there was a man in a white gown.

This guy's man-boobs might be the most disturbing thing in this adventure.

The man woke up as I entered, and asked if I had come for him. Startled, but wanting to know more, I answered that I had. At first he seemed cheerful enough to go with me, but then he drew a knife from his gown, and declared that he wasn't going without a fight. The battle was a desperate one, as I was unarmed, but he was no skilled fighter. He managed to wound me three times (reducing my Stamina to 10) before I could subdue him. Rather than finish him off, though, I spared his life, and he told me his story.

He explained that he used to be a part of the Master's "coven", but his conscience could not allow him to condone such evil. Rather than allowing him to leave the coven, though, his fellows had instead locked him up, and planned to sacrifice him. He explained that Kelnor could only be killed by the Kris Knife, and that he must be summoned in a red room.

Before he could finish the door burst open, and two men entered wearing masks made out of the heads of dead goats. They attacked us with knives, and we fought one each. The devil-worshipper was a better fighter than my ally, but I managed to sustain only one wound before defeating him (reducing my Stamina to 8). I was too late to save my new friend, though, as the other devil-worshipper killed him. I knocked him out, and fled. (I tried to use the pentacle in this section, but it's not meant for this encounter. I also wonder why I wasn't given the option to take a knife from any of these guys.)

I went back through the study and up the stairs, where I continued around the landing. At a junction I turned left, and entered a door marked as the 'Lucretia Room'. Inside was a bedroom, lit by a single candle and filled with many plants. Asleep in the bed was an old woman. I decided to wake her up, but when I touched her I found that she was cold. The woman was dead! (An experience which increased my Fear to 8, equalling my maximum.)

Maybe this is the 'astor bed' I'm supposed to fear?

And so I died, frightened by touching an old lady's dead body. Anticlimatic, no? I find it odd the things that increase your Fear score, and by how much.  Touching a dead body is worth 2 points?  But seeing a ghost is only worth 1?  Why does being attacked by cultists wearing dead goat heads not increase your Fear at all?  It doesn't make a lot of sense, nor does dying because I touched a dead body. I guess I have to assume that the hero of this book has an incredibly weak heart.

I'm still enjoying it, though.  I'm not sure which bits are different from the book version.  I don't remember the bell-pull trapdoor at all.  I'm pretty sure that the name-plates on the doors are different in the book.  Other than that, I'm flying blind here.

I don't know if I've made much progress, or found any vital clues. Learning about the Kris Knife is step one, but I remember it being very difficult to find.  I was pleased to get through the meal without being drugged, as I remember that being essential to winning in the book.  Here, it doesn't seem at all necessary.  I'm pretty sure that the old lady has an important clue, so I'll have to come back to this room on my next attempt.  Even then, I doubt I'll win next time. Rather than the linear progression of other FF gamebooks, House of Hell is like a puzzle-box, with each attempt revealing just a little more of what's inside.  I know I'll crack it eventually, but it's devious, so I could be on this one for a little while.

Friday, April 21, 2017

House of Hell (preview) - Attempt 1

My fear of goats is all down to this gamebook.

Before House of Hell was published as book 10 of the Fighting Fantasy series, a shortened version of it was included in Warlock magazine #3. Written by Steve Jackson and illustrated by Tim Sell, the book is one of my favourites in the series, so I'm interested to see how the magazine version differs. The preview of Caverns of the Snow Witch from Warlock #2 was much the same as the book, although it did have different illustrations. The House of Hell preview has the same illustrations as the book, but I've been assured that the adventure itself has been changed in some important ways.

House of Hell is set in the present day (well, in the 1980s probably), and begins with the hero driving down an unfamiliar road during a storm, having been given bad directions by a white haired old man. After swerving to avoid a person standing in the road (who may have been the same old man) he totals his car and is forced to seek help from the spoooooky house in the distance.  It's a cliched horror set-up, but the rest of the adventure makes up for it. I'm not lying when I say that House of Hell provided me with some of the most vivid nightmare fuel of my childhood.

As far as rules go, House of Hell introduces a new mechanic that will be central to the adventure: Fear. Before beginning the adventure, you roll 2d6, and record that number as your maximum Fear score. Your Fear begins at zero, but during the adventure various things will drive that score up, and if it ever equals your maximum fear you will die of fright. It's a pretty effective tool for maintaining tension as you explore the mansion.

I rolled a Skill of 7, a Stamina of 20, a Luck of 12 and a maximum Fear of 9.  Because I begin the adventure with no weapons, my starting Skill is actually 3, which is probably an accurate depiction of me in the real world. In fact I don't have any equipment at all, and don't begin with a potion or any provisions. It should be okay, though, I'm just going to knock on the door and ask to use the phone. Everything will be fine.

Meeting the Addams Family would be a best-case scenario here.

When I reached the front door of the house, the place looked abandoned; everyone was probably asleep as it was nearly midnight. The front door had a brass knocker, as well as a bell-pull hanging beside it. Reasoning that the knocker would have less chance of waking everyone in the house, I decided to try that first.

The door was eventually answered by a butler, who invited me inside. He hurried off to fetch his master, who I was informed was "expecting me". This should have raised some alarm bells, but perhaps I was just happy to be out of the rain.

Despite its ramshackle appearance from the outside, the interior was quite opulent. I decided to study some of the paintings on the wall, choosing that of a beautiful young woman (because I ain't about to look at a portly gentleman or an elderly woman instead). A plaque below the painting read 'Lady Margaret of Danvers, 1802-34'. As I stood admiring the painting, I heard a whispering and thought I saw the lady's lips moving. I moved my head closer, and she warned me to beware the house, that Lord Kelnor was already plotting my death, and that I should avoid drinking his red wine. It was a chilling experience (that increased my Fear to 1), and I decided to leave the house immediately.

I made for the front door, but when I tried to open it an electric shock ran up my arm (reducing my Stamina to 18). I would need to find another means of escape.

The butler then returned, with a man who introduced himself as the Earl of Drumer. The earl led my to his drawing-room, where I dried off in front of the fire and he offered me some sherry. Somewhat wary, and mindful of the warning of the lady in the painting, I didn't drink the sherry and instead waited for the earl to question me. The earl was annoyed, but his efforts to reassure me did little to calm my nerves (which increased my Fear to 2).

Widow's peak, he's definitely evil.

The butler summoned us to the dining-room, where a meal was served. There was a choice of white and red wine, and I chose to drink the white. Then we had soup, and a main course of either duck or lamb; I chose the lamb. As we ate, the earl told me about himself: he is the last of his once-prosperous family, but after the death of his sister at age 32 - found naked in the woods with strange marks on her neck - there were accusations of black magic. The farmers who once worked their land gradually left, although the Earl of Drumer dismissed it as superstitious nonsense. I wasn't convinced. After all, the lady in the painting had also been 32 when she died...

The butler returned with a selection of fruit, cheese, coffee and brandy. I chose to take cheese, coffee and brandy. (It's irritating to me that there are three choices given here, but none to avoid the coffee. I know I'm going against popular opinion here, but coffee is a vile brew.  In my head, my character just had cheese and brandy.)

Our meal ended, and the earl offered to have his butler show me to my room. I tried to stand up, but my head was spinning, and I collapsed into unconsciousness. It was that bloody coffee, I knew it.

When I woke up I was in a plain room with my hands and feet tied with rope. It was still dark outside, and the rain was pelting heavily on the window. I devised a plan: I would break the glass and use it to cut myself free. (At this point I was asked whether I want to Test my Luck, which is an unusual option in Fighting Fantasy; I'm pretty sure that Steve is the only writer who uses it. I chose to use my Luck, and rolled successfully, reducing my score to 11.)

I broke the glass, and managed to cut myself free without being cut. The door to the room was not locked, and it opened into a hallway. To my left the passage ended at a door, and to my right it continued on, but as I could hear squeaking coming from that direction I turned left. Suddenly I was confronted by the apparition of a young woman in a torn bridal dress. She beckoned me into the room, and I followed her despite being shaken by the experience. (My Fear increased to 3.)

I have no joke here, this is just a cool illustration.

The room was an elegant bedchamber. The ghost-woman explained to me that the house was ruled by Kelnor, a Black Priest of the Night, and that he planned to sacrifice me to the Demons of Hellfire. A young nurse had already been trapped, and was being sacrificed tonight. She also said that Kelnor could be defeated if I found the Kris Knife, but before she could tell me where to find it she was distracted by the baying of hounds. Two spectral Great Danes attacked her, and soon she had disappeared completely. I fled from the room, but I was now determined to destroy Kelnor as she had asked.

Along the corridor, there were two doors on the left marked with names: the Albemarle Room and the Rousseau Room. I tried the Albemarle Room, which was empty. I rested for a short time (restoring my Stamina to 20), before something caught my attention at the window. Passing through the wall was a human figure, carrying its own severed head in its hand. (My Fear score increased to 5.)

Whoever cut off this dude's head did a good job leaving his collar intact.

I stayed to hear what the headless ghost had to say: it told me that I was going to die, and be trapped as a ghost in the house forever. The ghost then faded back through the wall, but I was on the verge of panic. (My Fear increased to 7.)

Back in the corridor, I entered the Rousseau Room, and found it filled with boxes and furniture covered with white sheets. I searched under the sheets and in the boxes, but all I found was a chaise lounge, some easy chairs and some crockery and cutlery. As I was searching, one of the sheets rose into the air, giving me a fright. Instinctively I grabbed at the sheet, and discovered that it was merely being pulled upwards with string. I was relieved, but I decided not to wait and find out who had pulled the string. (My Fear had increased by 1 here, then decreased back to 7.)

I followed the passage and came to some stairs leading down, which I took. In the hallway below were doors to my left and right, as well as one in front of me that I believed to be front door of the house. Figuring that escape would not so easy, I ignored the front door and chose the door on the left.

I was in a study, lined with old leather-bound books. On a desk there was a piece of paper, and as I looked at it words began to form. Eventually the message was finished; it read: 'Beware the astorbed'. I didn't know what it meant, but I was unnerved. (My Fear increased to 8.)

I was desperate now to find something to fight my captors with, so I looked through the books. There was one on black magic, and another on hypnotism. I opened the book of black magic, and something dropped onto the floor; it was a pentacle on a chain, carved with the number 66. A piece of paper accompanying it told me that it had power over devil-worshippers, (My Luck was restored to 12, and I was informed that I could turn to 66 if I ever found myself in a situation to use the pentacle.)

I left the room and went back upstairs and turned right. Another passage crossed the one I was in, and I turned right again. On the left wall were two doors: the Gordelia Room, and another that was unnamed. I decided to enter the unnamed room.

Inside the room was a hearth, and a box sitting on the mantelpiece. Curtains along the wall bulged unnaturally, but I ignored them and tried to open the box. Something was happening behind the curtains, though, so I put it down to investigate.

As I approached, something struck me in the chest (reducing my Stamina to 18 and increasing my Fear to 10.) I had endured too much, and the last thing I saw before I died of fright was the Zombie that had been lurking behind the curtain.

I think I've bumped into this guy on a few nights out in Melbourne.

I didn't do very well, did I? I failed to make it through the meal without being drugged, and I also failed to find a weapon. I did learn about the Kris Knife, though, and the pentacle was a lucky find. To be honest, I never expected to make it through. Even when I was young and used to play the book regularly, I would still forget how to beat this one. Winning House of Hell for me was always a process of trial and error, taking multiple tries to build up the hints I needed to survive.  I reckon it will take me at least another three or four shots to succeed, if I'm lucky.