Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Who Lives in a House Like This?

I was always planning to play the Warlock magazine teaser of House of Hell for this blog. Whereas Warlock's Caverns was just the first half or thereabouts of the book (or the book was the Warlock version with a load of stuff stuck on the end), the two variants of House are effectively separate adventures. Both with the same basic premise, and most of the encounters in the shorter one also appear in the full book, but a succesful playthrough of the Warlock mini will be very different from a successful playthrough of the book. And with the Fear mechanism actively discouraging non-essential exploration, not to mention the number of false trails and dead ends in the 400-section version, there are over half a dozen locations common to both texts that are best avoided in the book, but can (or must) be visited in the mini.

I probably got issue 3 of Warlock on a Friday, as I remember playing the House teaser in my grandparents' front room. The Adventure Sheet shows signs of repeated use, with semi-erased records of early attempts largely obscured by the pencilled-in details of what was probably my last attempt at the adventure before today. Rather pretentiously, my note on which kind of wine to avoid refers to the offending vintage in French. I remember that on an early attempt, possibly even my first, I made it through to the end fight, but failed to acquire the only weapon that could harm the villain along the way.

This is the second FF adventure to move away from the standard fantasy setting. The first line of the Background section makes this clear, as I find myself behind the wheel of a large automobile on a classic dark and stormy night. This was almost certainly supposed to be a present-day setting, though nowadays it's slightly dated on account of making no mention of mobile phones or sat nav, both of which would have to be made unavailable or non-functional for the set-up to be viable in the 21st century.

I'm in the middle of nowhere, and starting to suspect that the old man who gave me directions was either confused or a malicious prankster. Not that either of those possibilities would provide much of an explanation for why he suddenly shows up in the middle of the road ahead of me, causing me to swerve into a ditch, and then cannot be found when I get out of the car to see if I hit him. Unable to extricate the car from the ditch, I am pleased to see a light appear in a bedroom window a short distance away, and start heading towards the isolated house in the hope of being able to phone a garage. Steve Jackson then introduces a slight disconnect between reader and character by pointing out that I fail to notice the lack of a telephone line to the house. While I'm at this distance from gamebook-me, I should detail my stats.
Skill: 8 (reduced to 5 until I find a weapon)
Stamina: 22
Luck: 10
Fear: 11 (high enough that I can get away with exploring slightly more of the house than is absolutely necessary)
That low Skill may be the death of me, but it's not as catastrophic as it would be in the book.

I trudge up the steps to the front door, noting that that light has gone out, and reflecting that the residents are unlikely to be too happy about getting disturbed by a rain-drenched stranger in the middle of the night. Turning back is not an option, though, so I give the bell-pull a hefty tug. At once, a trapdoor beneath the doormat springs open, and I fall through. Clearly the homeowner really doesn't want to be bothered by trick-or-treaters or Jehovah's Witnesses.

There is a mound of hay below to break my fall, and I can see one regular door leading out of the cellar into which I have been dropped. Something approaches the door from the other side, and I look around for something to use as a weapon if needful. It's an optional Test your Luck to find anything useful, and I may need a lot of Luck later on, so I decide to just wait and see what's coming for me. It's a man, whom I initially take to be bent double, but subsequently realise to have a hunched back. I explain my plight, and he tells me to follow him. He mutters to himself along the way, rambling on about how the table has already been laid for a special guest, and the specially matured cheese has been requested. Then we reach a door, and before going through it, he gives me directions the rest of the way, as he's not allowed upstairs.

I follow the directions, and am a little perturbed to be harassed by a flock of bats just before I reach the staircase. The stairs lead into a hall, in which a number of animal heads have been mounted on the wall. More stairs lead up to a balcony, but I stay on the ground floor for now, looking at the animal heads. They're all from dangerous beasts - bear, wolf, tiger, serval (either the latter is labelled, or my character is a lot better at recognising African wild cats than I) - and I hear a disconcerting growling as I study them.

No moose, though

Then I hear footsteps, and creep upstairs. Popping through a random door, I find myself in a storeroom, and help myself to a knife from one of the shelves. I also find an unlabelled bottle of liquid, but decide against drinking it, and I also ignore the door at the back of the room, as I suspect that there may be something nasty behind it.

Returning to the landing, I am startled by a tall man in a dark suit, who grabs my collar and marches me down the stairs. He warns that if I've come to rob the house, I'll find more than I bargained for. Keeping quiet about the knife in my coat pocket, I explain what happened on the road nearby (and, you'd think. make some kind of pithy comment about the booby-trapped porch), and the man introduces himself as Franklins, personal valet to the Earl of Drumer, whom he then heads off to inform of my arrival.

I barely have time to take note of my surroundings before Franklins returns, opening the door for the Earl, who brushes aside my explanation of my plight and instructs his valet to have the cook prepare me a meal. We move to a drawing-room, Franklins brings a couple of glasses of sherry, and I relax a little, since this is my best chance of reducing the Fear I've been accumulating since the trapdoor opened beneath me. The Earl tells me that the storm has brought down the phone line, so I can't call a garage (not that any would send someone out to attend to my car at this time - presumably this adventure pre-dates the AA's 24-hour breakdown service), but I'm welcome to stay the night.

Franklins announces that dinner is served, and we move to the dining-room, which has one long table, red wallpaper, and a chandelier bristling with candles. All pretense of this being a civilised household is then dropped, as I am asked what wine I want without being informed of the nature of the imminent meal, potentially setting me up for a serious breach of etiquette. Even without the reminder on the Adventure Sheet, I'd remembered that this is one area in which the two versions of the adventure differ, so I opt for the white.

Soup is followed by a choice between duck and lamb. That's rather elaborate, even if (as the hunchback's words suggested) I was expected. I pick the fowl, and don't need to use dice to Test my Duck, which is fine. The Earl is also eating duck, and we chat about my driving mishap and the Earl's misfortunes, which I may cover in more detail in the blog entry for the book.

Franklins offers more drinks and nibbles. Coffee is part of all the choices, but brandy is optional, and I can have fruit or cheese. Not wanting the hunchback's efforts to have been in vain, I go for cheese. The conversation continues for a little while, and then I black out, coming round an unspecified length of time later to find myself bound hand and foot in an empty room. Just as I planned. Seriously. In this version of the adventure, the bedroom to which Franklins takes any undrugged player characters is one of the most dangerous places in the whole house, offering up 2-5 Fear points and a chance of Instant Death. The 2 Stamina I lose breaking the window and cutting my ropes on the broken glass are trivial by comparison.

The door is not locked, and I step through into a hall. A squeaking noise dissuades me from turning left (Steve couldn't think of a better way of compelling me to go right?), so I move towards the door at the end of the hallway. A ghostly woman in a tattered bridal dress appears in front of me, says we must talk, and tells me to go through the door. She glides through it, while I have to open it. Beyond is a bedroom, where the ghost explains that the house is ruled over by a Black Priest of the Night named Kelnor, who periodically sacrifices people to the Demons of Hellfire. Tonight's victim is to be a district nurse who was captured yesterday, but I'm probably not far down the list. Kelnor is vulnerable only to the Kris knife, but before the ghost can tell me where it is, she is savaged to nonexistence by two spectral Great Danes that I am unable to harm.

Heading back along the landing, I come to two doors. Many of the rooms in this house are named. Few, if any, of the names are common to both versions of the adventure. The two here bear the names Albemarle and Rousseau, which could refer to any of a number of people or places (though the latter is most likely a philosopher).

I enter the Rousseau room, which looks as if it doesn't get much use, as the furniture and boxes it contains are all covered with sheets. I'm not going to find anything of use here, but I can't leave just yet, so I pause to catch my breath. Somehow this short rest heals the gash on my wrist - but then, FF healing never did make a whole lot of sense. Suddenly one of the sheets in the room rises up into the air. I clutch at it, and break the thread being used to lift it up.

Almost as convincing as this haunting

Leaving before whoever was tugging on the thread progresses to more dangerous pranks, I ignore the stairs down, and turn left where the landing splits. This way only leads to the Lucretia room, which turns out to be a bedroom that contains a lot of potted plants. Also an old woman in the bed, whom I choose not to disturb. Not the obscure in-joke it could have been: the room I'm trying to find contains the encounter that's found in the Balthus room in the book, and Lucretia was the name of The Citadel of Chaos villain Balthus Dire's wife, so I thought maybe... But this is the counterpart of a different room, and I don't need to explore it here, so I shall avoid the Fear I'd pick up by troubling its occupant.

Back to the junction and right, then. Another two doors await me, one unmarked, the other identified as the Gordelia room. Doors with names on haven't been a lot of help this far, so I try the blank one, which leads into an unfurnished room with a small wooden box on the mantelpiece and strangely bulging curtains. Result! I go over to the box and pick it up, noting that something rattles inside it, but then a noise from the window compels me to investigate. There is something behind the curtain, which knocks me down as I approach, then steps out to attack. It's a Zombie, and it does a lot of damage in the fight. I doubt that I'd have survived if I didn't have that knife.

Rather tiresomely, what follows the fight is all predetermined by the author. I decide to leave without further ado. I discover that the door is now locked (and gain Fear for the discovery). It occurs to me to check the box on the mantelpiece, which contains two keys, one of which fits the lock on the door, while the other bears a number.

Continuing on my way, I reach another pair of doors, leading to the Astor room and the Master Suite. That's not good. Clearly the set-up differs from that in the book more than I remembered, because one useful (though not absolutely essential) item can be found in a room which provides a warning about one of these rooms, so I must have missed that.

I can no more unlearn that warning than I can forget the knowledge that heeding the warning actually leads to far greater danger than disregarding it. Thus, reflecting on some oft-cited barbed exchanges with Churchill, I enter the Astor room. This is another bedroom, but unoccupied, though I can hear music somewhere. As I check to see if there's anything nasty concealed here, I hear footsteps approaching. Someone turns the door-handle, then reconsiders and goes away.

I could do with a rest to restore some of the Stamina I lost to the Zombie. Not that I'll get one, as the bed is booby-trapped, and lying down on it causes it to snap up into the wall, hurling me through a concealed panel into a dark passageway. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, but that's not as encouraging as it may sound, as the source of the light is a large fire, surrounded by a large crowd of chanting men in goat's head masks. On the other side of the fire is an altar, with the previously mentioned district nurse on it, about to be sacrificed. Under the circumstances, the only thing I can do is wait until the mob are distracted by the climax of this vile ceremony, and then make a rush for the exit.

My Luck holds out, but I still don't get away. Eh? Hang on, the reference numbers are the wrong way round. It makes no sense that being Lucky would mean getting spotted and (unless you have the right item) killed while being Unlucky would result in escaping. Especially as having the object necessary for surviving being noticed leads to the same section as not being seen in the first place. I'll accept a legitimate failure (such as is likely to ensue, unless the dice favour me in the end fight like they did the Zombie in my last one - yes, I beat it in the end, but it won twice as many rounds as I did), but I'm not going to admit defeat in a situation where the only rational explanation is that the author and/or editor made a mistake.

The passage leads to a dark room with no obvious exits, but a button on one of the walls opens a sliding panel that leads into a hallway with two doors leading from it. One opens into a drawing-room containing a table, six chairs, and a wall-sized mirror that doesn't reflect me. When I try touching it, my hand goes straight through. Still, I want to check out this room properly before I emulate Alice, and doing so enables me to find a box in a hidden drawer in the table. Footsteps sound outside the door, so I grab the box and jump through the mirror.

On the other side is a small chamber with a door I cannot open. There are now people in the drawing-room, and while waiting for them to go away, I look in the box, which holds the Kris dagger the ghost said I would need. Once the coast is clear again, I go back through the drawing-room and try the other door, which is locked. Good thing I have a key.

The door leads into the dining-room, which looks much as it did before. Another encounter I've missed would have provided me with the news that Kelnor can only be defeated in a red room, but even without that knowledge, I still wind up choosing to confront the Earl here. I ring for the butler, and get him to summon the Earl, who is displeased at having been summoned at this hour. I tell him that I'm a lot more displeased at all that is going on in this house, and we fight. The dice are still on the side of my enemy. I don't even manage to hit the Earl once before he kills me.

He has a week in which to get the house restructured, and then I'll be back as a different stranded driver, and we shall see who prevails then.

No comments:

Post a Comment