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.


  1. A genuine classic! I'm not as big a horror fan as some, but I remember this book well. :)

    1. It's a hard book to forget if you encountered it at the right age. It gave me vivid nightmares about goat-headed satanists, but I couldn't stop reading it.