House on the Hill

House on the Hill

House on the Hill


Obviously, the parallel running of the two games (1928 and 2008) is the crux of the the House on the Hill. It's actually a game I had been wanting to do for some time, but the technical challenge of writing two parallel games where the outcome of one (1928) affects the other meant that the game took a comparitively long time to get off the ground.

The original idea of parallel games came to me in the summer of 2000 while listening to a Radio 4 play as I drove along the M56 from Manchester to my parents' house in North Wales. It then took me a year to work out how to actually do it without fudging things so badly that it wouldn't make a good game for the players, and a further six months to write it.

See below for:


Other than the mechanical aspects of running the parallel games, the major style influences for the game include:
  • Reservoir Dogs
  • the writing of HP Lovecraft
  • Dr Who
Reservoir Dogs is a film that I've long admired and wanted to include elements of in my game. As a result, it forms the inspiration of one of the main plots of the game.

The writing of HP Lovecraft rather dictated the setting of New England, with the aim to try and re-create something of Lovecraft's sense of an ancient past haunting our everyday world, with the hint of something rather nasty in the cellars. Note that the emphasis is on atmosphere, so anyone looking for a Call of Cthulu-style adventure need not apply.

The final influence on the game is Dr Who. I had been listening to a lot of the excellent Big Finish Productions Dr Who CDs and watching old episodes on UK Gold in the months running up to the writing of the game, which has inspired me into action. For a long time, I've wanted to include a Dr Who type of character in one of my games, a well-meaning meddler, who can be quite comic at times and sinister at others. As with Reservoir Dogs, House on the Hill seemed the ideal game in which to put such a character stereotype.

The games themselves are fairly straightforward in concept: a variety of mismatching characters with different aims and goals, all brought together in a hotel for the evening. I can hardly claim that it's an original idea, so I won't. However, it works...

The First Run

The first run took place in July 2002 in Leicester at Convulsion 2002. We had a cast of British people playing Americans, with two guest Americans (Marc Blumberg and Anita Szostak) just to embarrass everyone about their bad accents.

For the first time ever, I had no last minute drop outs amongst the players: all 34 turned up on time and, also, I have to say, beautifully costumed. Had you accidentally walked into the 1920s room instead of the 21st century room, you would have immediately spotted your error (and vice-versa).

Sadly, I wasn't so lucky with my referees, one of whom had to drop out due to unavoidable work commitments. Fortunately, he was able to give me two weeks notice and the wonderful Nathan Gribble stepped into the breach like the hero he is. His comment on receiving the referee's pack was marvellous to behold: "This is a complex game: my brain hurts and I haven't even read it yet!".

Together with myself and co-conspirator, the long-suffering AJ Smith, we ran House on the Hill and I have to say, it surpassed my wildest dreams. That's not to say it can't be improved on: as always, the ending needs a bit of work, as does the mechanics of running two games in parallel, but these are teething problems and fundamentally, everyone seemed to have a wonderful time. It was pretty much everything I'd hoped it would be and I was really proud of the players, who took my characters to new heights (or depths, depending on your point of view). The gangsters were particularly frightening...

My personal highlight was poor Philippa Dall's character, completed stitched up for the second game running by a Steve Bassett character. I should point out that this time it was entirely inadvertent (although the first time, in Nepenthe, he meant it!). Well, perhaps not that inadvertent, having just tried to murder Philippa's character, he then murdered her boyfriend instead... Oops.

Second Run

The second run was at Intercon C at the end of February 2003 in Boston, MA. Learning lessons from the first run, AJ and I brought re-enforcements on the refereeing front. Sue Lee joined us from the UK, having played in the first run, and is now another Intercon convert (she was also dangerously muttering "Intercon UK" when she thought no-one was looking and has gone on to be a major force behind Consequences in the UK). We also recruited Marc and Anita from amongst the locals to help us out (okay, Chicago and Long Island, but that's local enough when you've come across the Atlantic to run a game!).

Having five referees definitely made a difference in terms of the smoothness of running the game: I felt much more in control this time (of the mechanics of the game, I hasten to add, not the characters). Whereas in the first run, I was rushed off my feet for four hours and ended up snapping at quite a few of my players, this was much more relaxed. We also managed to avoid some of the bottlenecks we had the first time around and actually had a plan for the ending of the game for once...

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to repeat my feat of having 100% player turn-out, but we managed to get 32 out of 34. Jim and Terilee Hewitt-Edwards were ambushed by the Connetticut road system and couldn't make it (but did let us know in good time, for which we are very grateful: thanks guys). Fortunately, we had the excellent Eric the Darker and Dean Edgell on hand to step in at the last moment. They basically camped out at the game and hoped for no shows (is it a coincidence that there were two of them and it was a couple who got delayed - perhaps they have unknown friends in the Connetticut highways department?) It was also a good job that Terilee's character was Phil (short for Philippa) who became Phil (short for Philip) at the stroke of a pen!

The game itself went extremely well. As far as I know everyone enjoyed it. There were so many highlights that I can't list them all. However, Daniel Abraham stood out with a very convincing portrayal of ultimate evil (so convincing that everyone joined the other side!). Pride of place, though, goes to the two sets of Private Detectives, who were absolutely priceless. I could have spent all game watching them bitching and fighting. I never knew people had such a chip on their shoulders about Yale!

Thanks again to all the wonderful players for making my characters come to life in such convincing and unexpected ways.

Third Run

Due to popular demand (ie I was going to get lynched if I didn't), House on the Hill was run again at Intercon D. Since the Intercon C run filled (yes, all 34 places of it) within four days of registration opening in June 2002 (eight months before the game) and we had a wait list longer than the player list, I really felt we had no option. Rather frighteningly, the Intercon D run managed to fill in less than 24 hours! We had Sue Lee and Anita Szostak back again on the refereeing crew, along with Mike Snowden, another UK Intercon convert, who replaced Marc "I'm not running two games at an Intercon again" Blumberg in the line up.

I have to say from a refereeing point of view, this wasn't the best run of the game. Despite filling so quickly, we had quite a few drops out, some for acceptable reasons, others less so. The worst part was losing four players in the half hour before the start of the game. Although we were able to find three players to fill in, it was a terrible start for the refereeing team, especially Mike Snowden, who had to step in at the last minute to play the last of the dropped characters. Instead of a well prepared, relatively relaxed run in to the start of the game, we were all running around like headless chickens!

All of this added up to the refereeing crew having a terrible start to the game. I certainly only really started enjoying the game when we got to the last hour, having spent the first hour convinced it was the worst run ever. I don't think the rest of the crew enjoyed it much either. I think it's fair to say our players didn't have as bad a time of it as we did. The impression I got, especially from game wrap, was that the majority of the players had a good time.

In contrast to the first Intercon run, when Daniel Abraham gave a very convincing portrayal of ultimate evil, Jason Rownd was the reasoning, acceptable face of ultimate evil, so acceptable in fact that he almost pulled it off! The outcome was in doubt right up to the last minutes of the game and was tipped only by one or two characters changing sides at the last moment. That in itself made up for all the trouble at the start of the run.

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