Tuesday, March 27, 2012

#10 - "House of Hell", by Steve Jackson (1984)

House of Hell, like Caverns, was first published as a shortened version in Warlock magazine - I have never in my life seen a copy of Warlock magazine, and I find myself greatly intrigued as to the content. Plainly it featured mini-adventures, and I also know of the bloodless bestiary entries that were later compiled into Out of the Pit - but that's not yet enough for a whole magazine. What else was in there? No doubt I'm wide of the mark, but I like to imagine it something like an activity book, with Fighting Fantasy themed word searches, colouring pages, letters to the editor requesting more barbarians with smaller loincloths, and so on.

Can you spot six differences in these two pictures?
So yeah, Warlock magazine - I have a slight notion to work up a fake issue, if I ever run out of books to write about - but given that these posts are being published at a rate slightly slower than the books themselves, I won't spend too much time dreaming up crossword clues today. House then. It's notable for being the only FF book set in today's Earth (well, 1984's Earth to be more precise). It's also notable in that I'd never played it before - it was never available at my local library, merely because, I suppose, it's a story about Satanism and human sacrifice intended for children (well, more young adults and hatchling nerds with tremendously advanced reading ages I suppose). I vividly remember reading a letter to the TV Guide in the late 1980s in which the correspondent complained that He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was teaching children that Hell's host could be defeated by swords and laser guns instead of the one and only infallible method - the direct intercession of Christ Jesus, LORD.

Has it really taken me two years to drop a reference to He-Man in this blog?
What kind of thirty-something man-baby am I?

What our correspondent would have made of House of Hell I can only speculate. Assuming they survived the initial paroxysms of outrage, they would've had to go out and find a magazine that was about books instead of TV so they could write a letter to it. Books Guide, I guess? The Book of Books? Books' Book? What a crazy idea! Let's forget it.  

Meanwhile it seems that the publishers of the U.S. release of House didn't want an fundamentalist book-burning backlash to generate huge free publicity and drive their sales up to record levels, so they re-titled the book as House of Hades, "Hades" of course being a ersatz underworld that the Ancient Greeks imagined contained the souls of those who, in life, had been poor conversationalists. Still a watered-down version of Hell, but it was a safe bet that the average book-burner wouldn't have heard of it.

Then, to make them seem even less threatening, they put all the Satanic cultists
in a
Citadel of Chaos style conga line on the staircase.


The set-up is pretty concise. You're driving your car down a back-woods lane through torrential rain at night, desperate to make "an appointment" somewhere the next day (this appointment is mentioned several times throughout the book but never specified - so let us say that you're getting your thighs lipo-suctioned by a disgraced, toothless old surgeon who lives in a shack). You end up lost on a side road after taking directions from a leering, white-haired old man - then suddenly you hit a pedestrian and swerve off the road! But where's the body?!?!? And then OMG you realise it was the same guy who gave you directions!?!?!?! You get really scared/confused. And later on he shows up again, this time hanging from a tree branch (but only if you happen to glance out of a particular window of the house).

What a day!
The only way this could be more thoroughly embedded in the well-worn ruts of horror cinema is if the old man had given you some kind of cryptic warning as well. Then your car won't start, naturally enough - you spy a light in the window of a creepy old house and decide to head up there to try to telephone a mechanic. Somewhat awkwardly, the book points out that you don't notice that there isn't a telephone wire running to the house - a fact that does not trouble you - because you didn't notice it - but probably would have if you did. You don't really get the impression that the place is of Hell/Hades straight away though.

Kind of a fixer-upper I suppose. The area looks better than it did on the cover mind you.
Not trying to be racist, but that green guy, with the horns? In MY neighborhood? 
So that's the Background in the book. But what about the background to the book? For the first time, and probably the last time, it is worth discussing the social context in which the book was written. Around 1984, the Western world was freshly launched into a long phase of mass hysteria surrounding Satanism and "Satanic ritual abuse" which, like the mullet, blasted all the way through into the early '90s. The McMartin investigation and trial was getting publicity and was no doubt observed with bemusement from across the Atlantic by Messrs Jackson and Livingstone in their own capacity as occultist role-playing warlocks.

Elfstar takes a prestige class.
The McMartin trial including allegations of flying molesters, hot air balloon rides and a subterranean dungeon beneath the pre-school (quite DnD, really). One of the children being interviewed implicated Chuck Norris, but somehow that didn't make it into the case for the prosecution. It was all based on now-discredited psychoanalytic techniques, dodgy interview practices, and old-fashioned sensationalist hysteria. In short, it was a disgraceful perversion of justice (with a coda here in NZ in the form of the Christchurch Civic Creche case, for which a man was sent down 7 years).

That's easy to say now, but at the time there were large sections of the population who genuinely believed that hidden cults were among us, their members would sneak out in the woods to sacrifice babies and such, telling their wives that it was poker night or whatever, and discreetly run their blood-stained cassocks through the washing machine in some private moment afterwards. If I recall correctly, I kind of believed this myself, or at least feared it. (Like many thoughtful children, I reached the conclusion that the Satanists were all in America and tentatively allowed myself to relax - after all, I had UFO abductions to worry about, and I had to stay focused).

Rolling Up My Dude

SKILL -12 (yay!)
LUCK - 7 (yah boo sucks)
FEAR - 8

FEAR is a new mechanic introduced to this game in order to measure how A-FEARED you are. It represents the maximum amount of spooky surprises your poor watering eyes can behold before you declare "ooh-er" and collapse to the floor with your plucky little blood-pump burst asunder. (Apparently this can really happen by the way - I checked).

Let's talk about that SKILL 12 though. That is perfection in combat. Being a law-abiding citizen of 1980s society I am probably unaware that I have natural fighting abilities equivalent to a PIT FRIEND (i.e. a Tyrannosaurus with gladiator training) - I have no idea that I am a festering boil of fluid violence merely waiting for the right crisis to erupt into action. For this reason, I have neglected to bring a broadsword with me, and must start with a -3 penalty to SKILL until I am able to arm myself.

Gimme a letter-opener and I'm a put this clown in the ground.

No PROVISIONS either, by the way - not so much as a stale muesli bar in the glove-box of my car.

The Adventure

You begin on the doorstep of the house, with separate options for knocking on the door vs. ringing the door-bell, or alternatively you can creep around the side of the house and peep through the window like a goddamn pervert. I used my incredible role-playing abilities to rule that last one out, since it only really makes sense if you already know you're going into a House of Hell and not just a normal house. Choosing between knocking on the door or ringing the bell makes no difference whatsoever (much as in life), you just get an extra paragraph to read. This is the first of many "non-choices" that crop up in the book, where you are given options that have no material impact on play. I have mixed feelings about them, they sometimes feel like craftily devised red herrings, and sometimes they add character, but looking at it cynically, they might well be there to bulk out the book-length version. As I recall, non-choices are found much more commonly in the inferior Choose Your Own Adventure series.

House of "Danger"? Oh really? How utterly timid.
And what is that, an exploding building with money flying out of it, even as alarmed MAN-APES
spill, in disarray, to the street? And all this great jumble being devoured by a giant Venus fly-trap? 
What am I supposed to just "suspend disbelief"?
So, regardless of your method of hailing those within, the butler will show up and lead you to a sitting room while he heads off to fetch the late Peter Cushing. There are three paintings in this room you can look at and of course they are all haunted. These haunted paintings are actually have pretty chilled out personalities though and will whisper useful advice to you even as their images gyrate uncannily before your tear-filled, disbelieving eyes. You still gotta add a FEAR point if you examine one though, what with the blasphemous warping of natural law and so on.

You are also given the option of searching for a telephone, despite the fact that the book already told you that you didn't notice that there was no wire running to the house. While it's true that I'm an amazingly skilled role-player, I couldn't just un-know that I hadn't noticed the lack of a wire, so how could I ever bring myself to search for a phone that I wasn't yet aware could never be there? Instead I dashed over the to exit in a sudden panic and got joy-buzzed by the door handle for 2 STAMINA damage. At last Peter Cushing showed up to interrupt my whimpering.

You CANNOT shake a man's hand while keeping your left hand in your pocket, Peter Cushing.
That's officially a Dudes' Mutiny right there.
The lord of the manor's dramatic entry is described thus: "The tall man you met earlier walks in, opening the door for another tall man dressed in a purple-smoking jacket." - okay not one of Steve's finest moments behind the typewriter there. He sits you down by the fire and drinks brandy with you while the butler goes off to cook up a mean feed. With only one tall man remaining in the room, you feel less confused. But somehow you blow your opportunity to ask about his electrified trap doorknobs and ghost paintings. He explains that their phone line is down (LIAR) and you are welcome to stay the night and get a lift into town in the morning. If a ghost painting hadn't already told me he was a baddie I would've probably said he's alright.

So, this first part of the book then becomes an elaborate battle of wits in which you are offered food and drink and must carefully select only those items which have not been poisoned. Your hosts are nefarious but also absurdly circumspect in that they have only poisoned a few particular foodstuffs. For example the white wine has been spiked with aspirin (?) that makes you pass out (???) whereas the red wine is just some real tasty wine. (The nice ghost lady in one of the paintings tipped me off regarding this). If you make it through the whole meal without being drugged you are given a bed for the night and actually just fall asleep anyway.  Unbelievably, a HUNCHBACK will then sneak into your room and optimistically leave yet another poisoned drink on your night-stand as you slumber. Shit, team - next time just get Jeeves to poison whatever I choose before he brings it into the room. Sorry, I mean "Franklins" (against all good judgment, the butler has not been named "Jeeves").

Even better, skip all the bullshit and just start wrestling me
The "boss battle" of the dinner scene is the dessert, where you are given the following options:
  • Fruit, coffee, and brandy?
  • Cheese, coffee, and brandy?
  • Just cheese and coffee?
I guess these are the exact choices that Franklins the Butler gives you? He gets mad if you say "just brandy". Anyway, clearly the choice is whether to avoid the brandy or avoid the cheese. I had some vague idea that cheese would be difficult to drug or poison - I mean, would you paint it on with a brush or what? - but clearly Steve Jackson did not share this intuition since I woke up in a bedroom with a headache and my wrists and ankles bound together.

On the other hand, if you somehow manage to consume both the white wine and the cheese you end will end up at the book's strangest ending, paragraph 172 (actually this is only possible if you raid a larder later in the book). I will quote it verbatim here, but I have altered the punctuation to give a sense as to how I would have an actor read this in my stage adaptation of House of Hell:

Caution... should have over-ruled, your appetite. 
FOR IN THE House of Drumer... cheese, and white wine... are-not-recommended...? 
...for the simple reason...? 
...that anyone who eats: CHEESE 

- or drinks...

...SHALL PAY, (the penalty).
???...they are poisoned...??? 


(This is right next to paragraph 171, another ending in which you are killed by a haunted bed. The competition was fairly stiff.)

Busting out of the bedroom was a simple matter of smashing the glass window to cut the ropes that bound me and then waltzing out the unlocked door. I found myself alone on the second storey landing - but what next?

Context was soon delivered by the apparition of a young woman in a ragged wedding dress. She appeared before me on the landing and, although kind of a hottie, her uncanny materialisation was sufficient to garner a FEAR point nevertheless.

A g-g-g-ghost!

Fortunately for my FEAR score, she didn't follow up by saying "woooooo" or "u gunna die" or anything like that, in fact her manner was more consistent with a stressed out supermarket worker who's finally managed to find her supervisor and report that somebody laid a turd in the cosmetics aisle and she can't find the emergency procedures manual (I've seen this happen).

'Oh thank God I have found you in time!' she says. 'I must talk to you immediately! Come, let us go into this room.'

She leads you into a well-appointed bedroom and demonstrates that when it comes to plot exposition, the dead can give the dying a run for their money. She explains that Peter Cushing is in fact a "Black Priest of the Night" and that she "would guess that you are to be sacrificed to the Demons of Hellfire". Without any pause to allow this to sink in, she continues. She tells you that the district nurse has been captured by the Master's cult and is due to be sacrificed tonight, and yesterday it was a guy who knocked on the door to see if Franklins wanted to switch power company.

"I cannot allow this devilry to continue!" she exclaims (yeah she actually says this, italics and all) "except for when it happens to real estate agents like on last Thursday".
"But you're just a GHOST," I point out. She ignores me and continues ranting. Incorporeal flecks of spittle fly from her lip and pass harmlessly through my skin.

She explains further that I need to find the Kris knife - a souvenir that the infernal Lord of the Manor bought while holidaying in Bali, but which ironically is also his only weakness. Like the Lizard King, he keeps the one weapon capable of harming him lying around at home somewhere.

Franklins: "Woah, sweet Kris knife! How the shit did you get this back through Customs bro?"
As is traditional she is fatally interrupted before she can impart the final, key information - the location of the Kris knife. Less traditionally, this is because she is devoured by spectral Great Danes.

Ree hee hee hee hee!
After that the ghost dogs vanish and nothing else of interest happens.  You shrug, but at least you know now what the macguffin is and can commit to some Bizarre Search Behaviour. Wandering about the house, it quickly becomes apparent that all the rooms have ominous, diabolical-sounding names such as AsmodeusAzazel and Shaitan. Early on though I did also find the Erasmus room, no doubt named for the renowned Dutch scholar and early proponent of religious toleration, Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus.

AKA "The Prince of the Humanists"
This tricked me into briefly adopting a rule of thumb whereby I would only enter rooms named for humanist royalty, rather than, say, Mammon, the demonic personification of the Third Deadly Sin, Greed. Unfortunately, Erasmus was locked, and the only other room I could find that remotely met the criteria was Balthus, named for Balthus Dire, the end-boss of Citadel of Chaos (an evil sorcerer sure, but not actually a demon as far as I know).

The Balthus room contains little save a small box on a mantlepiece, and a window with drawn curtains and a suspicious humanoid bulge behind them - I gave it a poke and oh nooooooooooooooooooooo...

"Shock lines" are used throughout House of Hell's illustrations to represent HOLY SHIT ARGH FUCK.
In this case I gained 2 FEAR points.
A ZOMBIE was just hanging out there. I think this is another, more oblique reference to Citadel since, believe it or not, in the boss fight with Balthus Dire you have the option to hide behind the curtains, whereupon you will be killed. Anyway, despite being super-scared I used my karate to disassemble the ZOMBIE (still at SKILL 9 on account of not having found a knitting needle yet). Amusingly, if you leave the curtains alone the ZOMBIE will remain motionless behind them until you leave the room, it makes for a lonesome image.  The box on the mantlepiece, if you're wondering, contains a key! Which unlocks the door that you just went through.

On the basis of this experience, I concluded that plainly the room names were not going to be helpful and besides, all the rooms would most likely be full of penalties and doom. I was in Steve Jackson's world, and his is a world of pain. It's a world where the casual player is punished - as usual, I wasn't troubling to make a map - I mean it's just a HOUSE, right, who needs a map? - and between maplessness and the vanilla descriptions of landings and corridors, rather rapidly I lost my bearings and found myself outside a room called Shaitan when I expected to be back at Azazel.

Shaitan turned out to be pretty fancy room that at first appeared deserted, however upon entering, it transpired there was a dude sitting in a high-backed chair facing away from the door. The door clicked shut behind me and he announced himself in an eerie 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?"

Pathetically, this tepid threat was enough to gain me a FEAR point. The gentleman stirs himself from his armchair and, smirking, invites you to present yourself for his inspection.

"Good evening, dear boy! Or perhaps I  should say BAD evening... for YOU! 
Oh tee hee hee hee hee!"
From his fruity manner, black cape and widow's peak it seemed transparent that this fellow was in fact a VAMPIRE. The other thing that tipped me off was that I had recently found some garlic in a kind of upstairs pantry, along with a carving knife (+3 SKILL points, thank you!) and an "unlabelled bottle of white liquid" that I resisted the inevitable impulse to quaff. (The white liquid turns out to be more poisoned white wine - and this the 1981 kill-you-dead vintage rather than the 1977 just-knock-you-out tipple. Here Steve Jackson has also revealed his own vintage as a beer-swilling macho man, happily unaware that white wine - as opposed to, say, Twink - is not physically white in colour).

But yes anyway, finding garlic in a Fighting Fantasy gamebook is sort of like finding a Chekhov's Gun in a Chekhov play - you know that before the end of the story, someone will be waving it hysterically at a VAMPIRE. That someone was me, and just as well, since your only other option is to be psychically dominated and have your blood munched. I edged around the room to one of the other exits while the VAMPIRE went through the motions of thrashing about and hissing and peeping at me from under the crook of his arm. Born unlucky, I first opened a door that had two ZOMBIES eagerly listening at the keyhole, they tumbled into the room like unruly schoolboys and I was forced to contend with them, even as I continued to waggle my string of garlic towards Mr. VAMPIRE any time he appeared to be gaining some self-respect. Thanks to my recently found carving knife, my SKILL was pumped to its Tyrannosaurus apogee of 12, thus disassembling the ZOMBIES was not a matter of any great complexity. At last I flung the garlic at my foe and dove through the other door, a matronly "oooooh!" of dismay resounding behind me.

That second door led into a cupboard, but happily there was a secret exit at the back, already standing wide open. I paused to consider that perhaps I had previous been through other cupboards with wide open secret doors at the back, and merely mistaken them for normal corridors? I couldn't know. No time for further hesitation though, I had found my way into a hidden section of the mansion, and its foul secrets would no doubt soon roll over and expose their bellies to me like an affectionate but loathsomely diseased house-cat. Unfortunately I almost immediately blundered through a false mirror and back into the main section of the house. Soon afterwards I found myself before a locked door, which needed a numbered key to open. I had no such key, and I know an end-game door when I see one. I had no doubt that, having failed to open this door, my fate would soon follow.

Failure, and Death

Across the hall from that locked door is the kitchen. If you get to the kitchen, you are doomed. Here I list all the possible outcomes once you enter that accursed yet surprisingly tidy place.

1) You grab a ring of keys lying on the cooktop, realise belatedly that the cooktop was switched on, drop the red-hot keys with a shriek and a clatter, four cultists wearing goat heads rush into the room and take you to the dungeon. Presumably you are later sacrificed in some awful riteWhich dickhead was cooking their keys though.

2) You go into the crockery cupboard and see a GHOUL, it's so scary that you just immediately die. (FEAR maximum exceeded)

The GHOUL ostentatiously displays her diamond engagement ring.

3) You enter the cupboard and see a GHOUL, you put a dot in your pants but otherwise survive the big spooky surprise. The GHOUL then punches you so hard that you die. (GHOUL defeats you in a straight fight).

4) You and the GHOUL tussle, you take a few slaps but you're tougher than that, you can take some knocks.  But next thing, your arms and legs start to feel so heavy, and: oops, I got paralysed. The GHOUL devours you at her leisure as you hiss your last few breaths through clenched teeth, eyeballs rolling frantically, a prisoner in your own delicious body. (Get hit by the GHOUL four times.)

5) You effortlessly defeat the GHOUL because you have SKILL 12, and the world of martial arts knows no equal with a rolling pin, chair leg or ornamental letter-opener. The deactivated GHOUL collapses into a stack of pots and pans, creating an almighty crash of metal on metal. Four burly cultists, wearing goat-heads, burst in to investigate. Despite the fact that you are a veritable god of combat, you stay your deadly arm and allow them to take you to hell-jail. For some reason. Later on they kill you I guess.

And that last one - the most drawn out and frustrating of the smorgasbord of failures - is what happened to me. The unwinnable kitchen is almost intolerable to my sensibilities, so I'll add one more option, this one is more of a philosophical possibility:

The Sixth Option

6) You refuse to make a decision, and so remain in the kitchen indefinitely. You wait until morning, watching good, clean, daylight pour through the windows. At length, a man wearing a goat-head arrives, bearing a stack of dirty breakfast dishes. He looks to you. You cannot interpret the slack, idiot expression of a decapitated goat. Tentatively, you reach for the tap, and run some water in the kitchen sink. The man places his stack of dishes on the counter beside you and steps back. You squeeze some detergent into the sink, then pause. You meet his gaze, and begin, slowly, to wash the dishes, brush scraping against the dregs of porridge which some fuckin' genius has allowed to dry solid against the bowl. That shit is like cement now. You look down at your work, but the touch of the man's goaty dead regard still pimples your skin. He waits, and watches as you dry each bowl and lay them in a neat stack on the floor next to the cupboard that has a GHOUL in it. At last, the man nods his goat-head once, and leaves.

This arrangement continues as it has begun; three meals a day, plus Devonshire tea on Sunday afternoons. You survive on the food-scraps - for Lord Peter Cushing does not eat his crusts - and the mistaken idea that you're supposed to be there. Between meals, you lean against the table and try to remember the lyrics to Nik Kershaw songs. They are maddeningly cryptic. Sometimes you watch the keys glowing dull red on the stove. Will someone come and fetch their ring of keys? No-one does. Weeks pass this way, and after a short and awkward courtship, you find yourself in an abusive relationship with Franklins. It drags on, jagged with passion and hurt - for months, years. Decades. You keep going back to him, even though he treats you wrong. Also because you are unable to leave the kitchen.

One day - and it seems no special day - the goat-headed man comes in carrying dirty dishes, just as he always does. He is stooped with age, and moves gingerly, his feet now scuff the ground when he walks. He lays the dishes on the counter, looks down. A human form is crumpled on the kitchen floor, hair grey, skin tinged to blue. The goat-headed man will be doing his own dishes this day. Your adventure ends here.

401 You cannot interpret the slack, idiot expression of a decapitated goat.


These two fun-lovers are playing dress-ups inside a cupboard, in one of the House of Hell's interminable sequence of "well-appointed bedrooms". Sure enough, should you open the cupboard door they will spring out and excitedly demand your autograph. Both have STAMINA 6, but while one has SKILL 7, the guy with the hat has just SKILL 6. I suggest that he is subject to a -1 penalty because his pants will be looped around his bony ankles in approximately one second. If a SKELETON simply must wear pants, suspenders are indeed the way to go.

One of the finest and most accurate depictions of SKELETONS in the wild. 
 As clearly encoded in the shock lines above, you will gain 2 FEAR points if you encounter them: 1 for the surprise, 2 for the gangster hat. 

Final Thoughts

A few things struck me as notable about House. The horror theme is fresh for the series, though not particular fresh for, you know, "horror" - it's mainly well-worn and semi-fruity Hammer Horror tropes, a grab-bag of chain-clanking revenants, Elizabethan gentlemen with they heads tucked under they arms and whatnot - but scary enough if you're a kid I guess (perhaps even traumatic?) The prose could do a better job of selling the shocks, it's kind of like "you see a ZOMBIE coming to get you, he got a SKILL 6" most of the time.

The FEAR system is a fun innovation, though it has its anomalies. For instance, finding unexpected corpses seems to consistently give you 3 FEAR points, whereas blasphemously re-animated corpses that shamble towards you with murderous intent will net you just 2 (and sometimes not even that).

Discovering the remains of this unfortunate goof will elicit a
 whopping 3 FEAR points, as opposed to e.g. gales of laughter.
Similarly, failure to relax and drink a brandy when you meet Peter Cushing will get you a FEAR point, whereas witnessing a GHOST lady being devoured by the spectral emanations of DEAD GREAT DANES provokes no more than a lazy shrug from your amygdala.

House also contains a surprising amount of dialogue and character interaction - far, far more than any other book thus far - though I didn't experience that much of it in my play-through. But apart from meeting the lord and his butler, there are many denizens of the house you can converse with - cultists, ghosts, prisoners, torturers, a HUNCHBACK, some old lady in a bed. There seem to be many cases where you have to decide whether you can bluff your way through an encounter, or conversely whether you can trust a stranger. I usually enjoy these angles in game-books (this is Steve, so, you now how it runs - plenty of false-faced betrayals). Another point, compared to the other books it seems to have very few items, I only picked up the garlic, a knife and a "joke" key in my play through.

It is super hard - but for good reasons, it seems to be a well-crafted challenge, rather than being peppered with arbitrarily tough combats. I could imagine myself trying another couple of play-throughs to puzzle it out some more - but then again... I still have fifty more books to go.


  1. You're one ahead of me, and I'm not even writing up my failures to survive with anything close to as much wit, detail, or photoshoppery.

    Maybe I'll have to put in a good stint of Fighting and Fantasising over Easter. I start hitting the gaps in my collection in the mid 30s, so plenty of deaths to go. And then its time for Sorcery and Lone Wolf campaigns...

    Oh, and wasn't it 'Warlock' magazine, not 'Wizard'?

  2. I'm pretty sure it was 'Warlock' magazine and I also think I may have a copy or two lying around if you'd like them?

    1. I appreciate the offer, however I wouldn't want an accurate impression of the magazine to spoil any eventual parody that I probably won't do.

  3. ***SPOILER ALERT***

    The big reveal at the end of the book is that the arch bad-guy is not fake Peter Cushing, but in fact... THE BUTLER FRANKLINS!!! It's some M Night Shyamalam-level head messing stuff.

  4. Yeah, you pretty much went wrong right from the beginning. It's one of those One True Way adventures with any unnecessary diversion bound to end up in grisly punishment quickly leading to a grislier demise. Some of the options you're given look really tempting as well. It's one of my favourite adventures though, despite its fiendishly/devilishly/hellishly tricksy plot....

  5. Learn more about "Warlock" here: http://fightingfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/Warlock_(magazine)

  6. I don't think I ever finished this, even through standard fingers-in-pages cheating. There's some bobbins about secret passwords to open a door under the stairs that I had to solve using the proper weapons-grade cheating of reading each and every paragraph until I got to the right one.

  7. "Wizards", "Warlocks" - they're all just SATANISTS though, am I right?
    Nevertheless I have corrected this post and my previous mention of "Wizard magazine" in the previous one. An embarrassing lapse of research, yet, not nearly as poor as the first three books where I was rolling the wrong number of dice in combat.

  8. Another brilliant post! I clearly remember how good Snake Mountain was at making me sound like an 'occultic hero'. As that interviewer demonstrated, you had to do most of the work for yourself...

  9. The mention of ghosts, haunted abodes and Scooby Doo compels me to post a random link to the sadly shortlived British homage to what is possibly one of the finest dog based cartoon ever.


    In the above clip our heroes meet a turn of events that Herr Jackson would be proud of; being only mildly less fair than selecting an arcane combination of unknowingly fatal tipples and nibbles.

  10. I held off reading for as long as I could but I finally had to read it...Oh dear god my lungs my eyes... pure awesomeness topped off with um EVEN MORE AWESOME!

    1. "...the awesomeness of what is happening overwhelms you, and you lose consciousness."

      That's a line from the intro to Talisman of Death believe it or not - your kind comment reminded me of it.

    2. Talisman of Death is the best!

  11. I was always disappointed that Yanks didn't just change the title to House of Heck while they were at it.

  12. This is your best post so far, Murray!

    I maintain that HoH *is* scary, but not in the manner intended. The horror comes not from the cheesey cast of ghouls, ghosts and fire sprites but from the creeping dread that you haven't managed to second-guess Steve Jackson and will find yourself out of options next paragraph.

  13. House of Hell missed a lot of Rocky Horror opportunities. doe you have cheese, fruit or do the Time Warp?

  14. landed on this trying to find a house of hell map ... excellent stuff!

  15. My chest hurts, my cheeks are wet with tears, I need to lie down for a while.

    The funniest deconstruction of a Fighting Fantasy gamebook I've ever read.

    Your 'sixth option' in the Ghoul Kitchen verges on comic genius. Bravo!