House of Hell

“Oh come on, I have to die of fright soon.”

House of Hell by Steve Jackson

Cover: Ian Miller

Illustrations: Tim Sell

The house is bigger on the inside.

I love this cover. Trust Ian Miller to get the job done.

So when there’s a satanic panic going on, what’s the first thing an author of fantasy gamebooks would do? If you said “write a book about satanic cults and demons” then you win a prize (prize not actually real). If you said “write a book about satanic cults and demons and make it ridiculously hard” then you’ve read this book. It’s supposed to be rather hard. It’s also supposed to be scary, but it looks like it’s more Hammer Horror than anything actually creepy. But we shall see…

This book is being turned into a film. I think of all the books a present day horror story is the easiest to do. Of course, thanks to the wonders of technology it’s going to be an interactive film when released in plastic circle format. Of course there’s sod all information around about it other than a supposed release date of sometime in 2013. So I guess there’s no point in holding my breath.

Oh, yes: It’s set in the early 1980’s. This explains the whole running around for a phone thing. Well, times-a-wasting and I’ve been loaned an original copy with the positively scandalous missing illustration, so I suppose I should get on with being killed repeatedly.

Statistics

Skill: 11 (minus 3 at the start for having no weapon)
Stamina: 17
Luck: 9

Fear: 10 (1d6+6 and it’s a maximum: Fear starts at zero, every time something scary happens this goes up, and if it reaches the Fear score, I die. Oh goody)

Equipment: Fucking NOTHING. Except probably clothes, you know? I suppose I was too stupid to grab a tyre iron.

Onward to Adventure!

It’s a dark and stormy night, and driving through the driving rain is driving me to the edge of my patience. This side road was supposed to be a shortcut, or a way back to the main highway, or something. The old man who gave me the directions said so. Speaking of that white-haired old man, he suddenly looms into view in front of the car. I swerve and go into a ditch. For fuck’s sake. I get out, bumping and banging as I do so, and go to check to see that I didn’t kill him. But there’s no sign of the old git. My car is hopelessly trapped, and I ran someone over so hard he disintegrated. All this in the name of making sure I get to that terribly urgent appointment in the morning. In fact, now that I think about it, my car is hopelessly trapped and also broken down and it’s twenty miles to the nearest village. Oh and it’s about midnight, too. But wait, a light nearby! A house! Maybe I can call someone from there!

At least there's no evil green demon gardeners, right?

When does knocking on the door of a house like this on a stormy night ever go badly for anyone?

I stumble up the driveway, paying more attention to the way I’ll get there than the place I’m going. Like with the car, really. Once on the doorstep I note there’s a knocker and a bell pull. I decide to go for the bell-pull, fumble for it, and finally get a hold of it. For my trouble I’m rewarded with a cheery tinkling of bells, which seems a lot less ominous than I expected. Then the door is opened by someone who, judging from the clothes, could only be the butler. He seems a bit indignant, and I don’t really blame him.

“Excuse me,” he says. “Why are you filming me?”

“I’m terribly sorry,” I say, “I accidentally glued the camera to my face and can’t even turn it off now. I have an appointment first thing in the morning to get it removed and I was on my way there but my car broke down and ended up in a ditch and frankly, I need to use your phone to call someone to haul it out and fix it.”

The butler stares at me for a moment before answering.

“Come in, the Master is expecting you.”

“Is he usually referred to as the Master?” I ask with a chuckle. The butler just stares at me like I’m mad. That might be fair, considering my stylish accessory.

I’m shown to the reception hall where I browse some paintings while waiting for the owner of the house to make an appearance. It’s all very opulent and fancy. I eye one of the paintings, a young woman who lived in the 19th Century. Then the painting warns me that I’m in danger, and that the white wine isn’t very good, and tells me to perhaps consider getting the hell out of here. I am a bit frightened by this.

One! One one! Ah ah ah!

One! One fear point! Ah ah ah!

But I’m also really not keen to trudge through the rain to my car and try to haul it out of a ditch by myself, so I wait around to meet the owner of the house. I’m offered dinner, which I accept, and get to hear that the estate has fallen on hard times after the Earl’s sister died at the age of 32. That’s a funny coincidence, because the painting I had a hallucination over was of someone who died at 32. After dinner – let me tell you, it’s kind of awkward eating with a video camera glued to your face – I get given a room for the night. Except it’s not going to do much good if I can’t sleep because I need to go to the bathroom…

…Oh good the door is locked. From the outside. I am more than a little uneasy about this, and decide to turn the lights off and sit in the dark. After a little while the door opens and a hunchbacked man comes in with a glass of what looks like water. I duck out of the room and lock the door, and set off to explore this creepy house. I am promptly met by a ghost.

Not really that scary, really.

Two! Two fear points! Ah ah ah!

The ghost is another woman, and she leads me into a bedroom which is labelled the Apollyon room, and tells me that the house is run by a cult, they abducted the district nurse, I look like an idiot with a camera stuck to my face, there’s demons, I need a magic knife, and also the ghost hounds are coming so that’s that for the run-down on this madhouse. She gets mauled by ghostly dogs, and I can do nothing but leave. I walk along the landing and try the door to the Azazel room. It’s some sort of retro laboratory, and inside is a whole load of antique apparatus. I dig through a drawer and find a letter opener that will make a passable weapon, and then nearly get caught by some people who have a discussion outside the door and leave. They might come back so I get the hell out of there. I decide to hole up in the Mephisto room. It’s not very nice, with a broken window and some rope on the floor. I take the rope, because I’ve played enough text adventures to know not to leave rope lying around, and then hit up the next room along the landing, which is called the Balthus room. It’s nice enough in there, but there’s obviously someone behind the curtains. Try as I might, I can’t just pay no attention to them. I go over and throw open the left one, and nothing is there. Then a zombie jumps out from behind the other curtain.

Zombies attack! Run!

Four! Four fear points! Ah ah ah!

Okay now I know I’m not seeing things, because the zombie kind of hurt me. I get out of that room and then try the next door. It opens into a short corridor with a lone door marked Diabolus. Yeah that can’t be too bad, right? I go in and sit down for a few minutes to catch my breath. Then a headless ghost comes through the wall and scares me badly.

This is the evil version of Duckula.

Six ! Six fear points! Ah ah ah! (I’m sure you can all figure this one out yourselves)

I get out of there and check the window at the end of the passage. It’s only got condensation on it in one part, and there’s a message written on it in the condensation. For some reason I, having just met a bunch of ghosts and zombies, find this strange. I memorise it and then get out of there. At the stairs I find another door and go in, only to find a store room. I notice some garlic and grab it, on the basis that there’s bound to be a vampire around here somewhere. I hope they show up on video cameras. Then I wander around the landing some more until I find the Abaddon room. This is the room the mysterious message on the window mentioned, so I go in. There are a lot of plants in there, and also an old woman in bed. I decide to wake her up, despite knowing she’s probably a witch. Or a zombie. Or a zombie witch. Well she’s dead but talking to me, so zombie witch it is.

Count von Count, a pipe organ, and bricks with numbers on them. All fairly standard for Sesame Street.

Eight! Eight fear points! Ah ah ah!

I press her for information and she summons a couple of dogs, which I kill. Then I ask again but she says she will only answer my question if I know her name – thankfully that window told me. I get some information abut a secret door and then leave, making for the stairs down. I find only one place to go: The study. It’s not too bad in there. I steal some brandy and then rifle through some letters. Then I poke around at a secret panel in the fireplace and find a hidden button… and also get attacked by fire imps. I guess when you hang with hellfire demons fire imps are easy to hire for fireplace security. Fortunately I am quick thinking, and while they laugh at the camera stuck to my face, I awkwardly upend a plant pot over them and the soil extinguishes their flames.

Feeling a bit better about things, I press the button on the fireplace. A secret panel in the wall slides open. I go over to have a look and find it’s really just a fake. The real secret is the trapdoor I’m standing on.

Berk! Feed me!

Nine! Nine fear points! Ah ah ah!

Ow. I pick myself up, and curse a bit because the fall didn’t dislodge the camera. I suppose it’s a good thing since it might have taken half my face with it, and then I’d have to take up residence in this grotty old mansion and terrorise visitors. Then the hunchback from upstairs comes in. I say hello, and offer him a drink from my purloined hip flask. He then gets drunk rather quickly and tells me that the secret password to the secret room of secrets is an anagram of the name of the house. Then he staggers off. I decide to look around the cellar, and behind one of the doors I find a prison. One of the prisoners tells me I need to get the hell out of dodge and find the kris knife but also that I have to fight the evil master of the house in a red room.

“Oh for pity’s sake. Is there a red room around here, or do I have to find some paint?”

“No, the dining room is red. But I suppose if you can’t find the key to the dining room you’ll need a couple of cans of red paint and a good roller.”

Right, off to find another key and just in case, some cans of brilliant red, and a paint roller. I leave the prison area and head for the stairs, under which the secret door will be located. They’re in a small chamber. A small chamber which happens to be inhabited by bats, which scare me…

You always know how much of a thing there is when he's around.

Ten! Ten fear points! Ah ah ah!

…to death! As I lie there dying from a heart attack I consider that not only is the satanic cult hiding out in this house going to continue their evil ways unchecked, they’re probably also going to make a lot of money off this footage. The bastards!

Wrapup

Dying of fright in this book is more difficult than I expected. But the fear mechanic does make the book scary, just like the Messenger of DEATH in Temple of Terror. But overall it’s pretty much like I expected: A Hammer Horror film. Some people think it’s more puzzle than book (or game) but I think the exploring aspect was really interesting. Of course I gave myself a save point because I suspected I’d hit the path to the kitchen, which has been covered in much detail on other blogs as a total party kill. Even if the party consists of…

One! One one! Ah ah ah!

One! One adventurer! Ah ah ah!

There’s something to be said for the book never mucking around. But unfortunately one of the pictures was considered to be a bit much and got pulled after the first printing:

Apparently they kill a new goat each time for that fresh feel.

Blood, knives, and nudity. Everything kids want in a book.

I think it’s the blood, actually. Wait… Oh god… the Children’s Television Workshop is going to kill me.

My favourite line in the book: “Your daring rescue is commendable for its bravery, but unbelievably stupid.” – Yeah? Well that’s the way we do things in adventurer town!

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: There’s a bit where, after exploring the upstairs, you can be scared out of your wits by something and decide to go to bed. Yes, that’s certainly what I’d do on finding out that ghastly horrors are real.

Ridiculous Battle: The imaginatively-named Hell Demon (you knew there would be a demon, right?), at Skill 14 Stamina 12. Though you can’t even get into the battle without the kris knife, which gives a bonus of 6 to Skill – and most people take that to mean a bonus to attack strength, which seems reasonable.

Victory: The demon goes down, one of the evil minions is sad, the house catches on fire, you escape, the end. Oh and all the prisoners die. Ooops.

What Was I Thinking? Looking through all the rooms was probably a silly idea, since it was obvious the outcome would be an ever-increasing tally of fear points.

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3 Responses to House of Hell

  1. Jonas Juul says:

    These books being a rare sight in bookstores here, I bought this one in a the new version some 5+ years ago, to show her my teenage years. We played it together some 10-15 times without completing it, bloody hard book. Impressive you managed to die from fear, we were always hit by the sudden death parts.

  2. cityman1984 says:

    Do you actually have to fight the old hunchback to recognise him later, or can you recognise him and he you without ever having spoken to him? The text is ambiguous about it, as it is about the Kris knife bonus. In a way, it would make sense that the Kris knife does not bring an attack strength bonus. Fighting an actual demon with a wavy dagger? I don’t like those odds.

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