House on the Hill

House on the Hill
The Rules

House on the Hill


It should be stressed that The House on the Hill is not a combat- or action-based game and the rules mechanics reflect this. In particular, the combat rules are not designed to be in any way a simulation of combat. Instead their principal aim is to make combat as quick and nasty as possible and to make the rules-based elements as unintrusive as possible.

Similarly other rule mechanics are designed to be quick and simple to apply and to intrude upon actual roleplaying as little as possible.

The mechanics covered are:

If you've played The Man in Black, then the rules are the same as for that game.

Character badges

One of the main mechanics is the Character Badge that each player will wear. Any player who is currently in game should be wearing a badge that will say:
  • Character Name: Who the character is (or claims to be)
  • Profession/Position: What the character does (if obvious)
  • Character Number: A two digit number, unique to the character, which is in the top right hand corner of the badge
  • Red Stickers: Some characters may have red stickers on their badges. If you get into combat with a character with a red sticker you must involve a referee


The name on the character badge is the name that the character goes by in the game. This is not necessarily their real name.


Not all badges will have a profession or position on them since, in most cases, it's not immediately apparent what the character does. However, some characters are easily identifiable, so their badges will say what they do. For example, the Hotel Managers in the two runs of the game with have character badges which say "Hotel Manager" on them.

Some characters may also have two badges, both with the same name, but one with a profession and one without. This is so that they can give their official identification when required. For example, Adam Jones is an FBI Agent, but most of the time he doesn't advertise the fact, so his badge says "Adam Jones". When he wishes it to be known, he can wear (or even just show) his other badge, which says "Adam Jones, FBI Agent". If you see a character with such a badge, this is an official badge of office, so you should act as if they are who they say they are! Such "official" badges can be stolen, by the way.

Character Number

Each character will have a unique number, which is displayed in the top right hand corner of the badge. This is only there for the Contingency Envelope system to work.

Contingency Envelopes

Some characters will have Contingency Envelopes. These are sealed envelopes which are only to be opened when the condition on the front of them is met. Some will say things such as "Open at nine o'clock" or "Open if shot". You are on your honour only to open them if the condition is met.

However, most envelopes will be conditional on you meeting another character. In this case, only open them if you meet or talk to the character whose number is given on the envelope. Again, the condition will be clearly stated. For example, "Open if you see character 53" is different from "Open if you talk to character 53".

As before, you are on your honour only to open them if the condition is met. Please don't go around trying to find a particular character at the start of the game just because you have an envelope with their number on it. This is not playing the game! However, if the game is well progressed, you find yourself at a loose end and you still have envelopes that say "Open if you meet/talk to/see character xxx" then it might be an idea to make an effort to find them.

General skills

If you have a particular skill, it will be specifically mentioned on your character sheet, which will include a description of what you can do and how you go about doing it. Most skills will be dealt with off-line, ie see a referee. There are no skills such as "eavesdropping" - if you want to sneak up on somebody and listen to what they're saying, then you'll just have to sneak up on them.

If you think your character would be able to do something that isn't on your character sheet, see a referee. Don't assume that just because a skill's not on your character sheet that you can't do it. Referees rarely think of everything beforehand. On the other hand, don't keep pestering the referees with speculative requests. If you do, you'll soon find their sympathy wearing very thin...

Two specific skills will be described below as examples of how things work.

Example 1: Pick Locks

Mr Brown is a skilled picker of locks and, given time, can break into most things, including safes. His character sheet tells him that picking locks is a two step process. The first step is to work out how difficult the lock is to pick and whether or not it has an alarm attached. If Mr Brown is successful at this stage, he will know exactly how difficult the lock is to pick, roughly long it will take and what tools he needs. If he's not so successful, his information will be less accurate.

Once he knows what he's up against, Mr Brown can move onto step 2, actually picking the lock. If Mr Brown is successful, he will pick the lock. However, he might fail, or fail spectacularly, in which case he could set off the alarm (if there is one) or actually mangle the lock completely!

This is what it says in Mr Brown's character sheet:

Pick Locks (Skill)
This is a two step skill:

Step 1: See a referee and play Rock, Paper, Scissors.

  • If you win, you know how difficult the lock is to pick, how long it will take and what tools you need
  • If you draw, two of the three items of information will be correct, but the third will be inaccurate
  • If you lose, one of the three items of information will be correct, while the other two will be inaccurate
You may not make another attempt to examine the same lock for 10 minutes.

Step 2: You may attempt to pick the lock. Note that if you do not have the correct tools, the task will be more difficult. Also, if you wish to carry out the task more quickly than you estimate, the task will be more difficult. At this point, the referee will tell you your chances of success and the likely consequences if you fail. For example, if the lock is simple and you have the right tools, the outcome may be as follows:

  • If you win, you immediately pick the lock
  • If you draw, you take a minute to pick the lock
  • If you lose, you fail to pick the lock, but can try again in five minutes
However, if the lock is a tricky one (and alarmed) and you haven't got the tools, the outcome may be as follows:
  • If you win, you take 10 minutes to pick the lock
  • If you draw, you fail to pick the lock and may not attempt it again unless you have the correct tools
  • If you lose, you fail to pick the lock and have set off the alarm!
If you choose not to pick the lock, you may come back at any time and attempt to pick the lock without repeating Step 1. If you choose to pick the lock, then play Rock, Paper, Scissors with the referee and he will inform you of the outcome.

So, how does this work in practice?

Well, Mr Brown sees a referee and tells him that he wants to pick the lock on the hotel's safe. His colleague has distracted the manager and he has at most 10 minutes before she comes back. Mr Brown and the referee play Rock, Paper, Scissors (if you don't know how Rock, Paper, Scissors works, click here). Mr Brown draws, and the referee tells him that the lock is:

  • difficult to pick, but not alarmed
  • requires a full set of lock picks (which Mr Brown doesn't have with him)
  • will take about 10 uninterrupted minutes to pick
Step 1 is now complete and the referee sends Mr Brown on his way to get some tools. However, Mr Brown, sensing that getting some tools at short notice might be difficult, asks the referee if he could pick the lock using the simple lock picks that he has with him. What's more, he only has 10 minutes at most and has spent a couple examining the safe, so he asks if it can be picked in five minutes. The referee says it can, but it will be much more difficult. The referee tells Mr Brown that he must win at Rock, Paper, Scissors in order to succeed. His precise outcomes are as follows:
  • If he wins, Mr Brown will pick the lock in five minutes
  • If he draws, he will pick it in 10 minutes and runs the risk of discovery
  • If he loses, he will fail to pick the lock and will most likely be discovered
Mr Brown doesn't have long to decide. He has two choices: he can attempt to pick the lock or retire and see if his colleague can distract the manager for longer. After a moment's thought he decides to go for it. He plays Rock, Paper, Scissors with the referee and wins! Mr Brown breathes a sigh of relief, but that soon gives way to panic as the referee tells him (and announces to a hotel at large in a loud voice) that an alarm is going off in the office!

Unfortunately for Mr Brown, he only drew when he was casing the safe (step 1) and failed to spot the alarm (that was the one piece of information that was inaccurate in this instance). Had he used the proper tools or taken the full 10 minutes, then he wouldn't have set it off, but the referee decided that in his haste, he didn't spot it until it was too late.

As you can see, the referees are free to make modifications as they see fit: in this case, by making it more difficult for Mr Brown to pick the lock due to his haste and lack of tools. In all cases, the referee ought to tell the player what is required in terms of success or failure. If he doesn't, please jog his memory, but if the referee then refuses to tell you, be assured that he'll have a good reason!

Finally, players are expected to roleplay the outcomes of their skills. Clearly, you can't roleplay picking a safe, but the referee might keep Mr Brown out of the game for 5 minutes to simulate him picking the lock before announcing the bad news about the alarm

Example 2: Picking Pockets

Miss Scarlett is a local pick pocket from New Dunnottar who hangs out in the House on the Hill's bar in the hope of relieving some rich tourist of his wallet or watch. Her character sheet tells her that to pick someone's pocket, she must first hang around in the vicinity of her victim for a minute or two, then tell a referee that she's tried to pick their pocket. She's also told to tell the referee who else was there when she made the attempt. If she's successful, she'll get an item, perhaps even one of her choosing, but if she fails, she might get caught.

This is what it says on her character sheet:

Picking Pockets (Skill)
If you wish to pick the pocket of another character, you must hang around in the near vicinity of that character for a couple of minutes, either talking to them or staying within touching distance. Then move away and see a referee, telling him whose pocket you have tried to pick and who else was present.

Play Rock, Paper, Scissors with the referee.

  • If you win, you can pick the person's pocket of one item at random
  • If you draw, you can either take an item and be caught in the act, or you can fail, but not be discovered
  • If you lose, you fail and are caught in the act
If you win, you may opt to play Rock, Paper Scissors again, with the following results:
  • If you win, you can take the item of your choice
  • If you draw, you can take an item at random
  • If you lose, you can take an item at random, but are caught in the act
You may also be required to play Rock, Paper, Scissors by the referee to see if anyone else noticed your attempt. Once things have been resolved, the referee will fetch the item you have stolen. If you are caught in the act, go with the referee and play out the scene.

Note that this skill may also be used to plant something on someone without their knowledge or pass something unseen to a willing accomplice.

So, how does this work in practice?

Miss Scarlett decides to steal something from Hubert Bracken, an obviously flash visitor with more money than sense. She spends a couple of minutes pretending to chat him up and then makes an excuse and leaves. She goes to the referee and lets it be known that she has tried to pick Hubert's pocket. The referee decides that Hubert is an easy target and informs Miss Scarlett that if she wins, she can choose an object; if she draws, she gets one at random; if she loses, she gets nothing, or can pick an item, but gets caught in the act. They then play Rock, Paper, Scissors and Miss Scarlett wins.

The referee goes off and gets all Hubert's easily accessible items from the player, bringing them back to Miss Scarlett. However, Kathy Ryan (the Deputy Manager at the hotel) has had her eye on Miss Scarlett and, unknown to her, was watching her chat up Hubert. She asks the referee if she saw anything, so the referee brings her back to Miss Scarlett. While Miss Scarlett is choosing her item (she decides to take Hubert's antique pocket watch) the referee gets her to play Rock, Paper, Scissors with Kathy. She loses.

The referee informs Kathy that she saw her filch the watch. Kathy tells the referee that she'll follow Miss Scarlett for a couple of minutes before confronting her, so the referee leaves them to roleplay the encounter while he returns Hubert's items to him (without the watch, of course) and lets him know that the next time he goes to check the time, he finds that his watch is missing.

Combat rules

Combat is frowned upon within the game itself and is not a good idea. Even in the 1928 run of the game, the police aren't that far away (there is a Police Station in New Dunnottar).

However, if you do find yourself in a fight, combat will be run according to the rules laid out below. If you can, please ensure that a referee is present, but if not, the rules are fairly simple to follow. The only exception to this is if you get into comabt with a character with a red sticker on their character badge. In this case a referee must be present before combat takes place.

Gun combat

The basic principle of gun combat is as follows. Draw your weapon, point it at your target and shout "Bang!". If it's not obvious who your target is, also shout out their name. If you have been shot, please fall over in a suitably dramatic fashion. A referee will decide on the extent of your injuries, but please remember, guns are nasty things and they tend to kill people.

As a guide, unless you are a terrible shot, you will hit your target if they are stationary. If you are a terrible shot, or the target is actively dodging, you will have to play Rock, Paper, Scissors. At this point, you will definitely need a referee. Other things that might require Rock, Paper, Scissors is making a tricky shot across a crowded room where you can only see your target's head.

The table below will give you some idea about the likely chances of success. The first outcome is if the target is stationary, the second if the target is dodging or it's a difficult shot.

Ability Win Draw Loose
Can't shoot
Automatic Miss
Automatic Miss
Fair shot
Automatic Hit
Crack shot
Automatic Hit
Automatic Hit

In general, guns tends to kill people, but just to give you a guide, there are three types of gun:

Small Hand Gun Large Hand Gun Shotgun
Effect May kill
(not if wearing body armour)
Probable kill
(unless wearing body armour)
Definite kill
(unless wearing body armour)
Notes Concealable
(can be hidden on your person)
(people can work out you're carrying one)
(it's obvious you're carrying one)


The other side to gun combat is ammunition. In House on the Hill we will be using the following ammunition system. Each weapon has a item card with a number of boxes on it, corresponding to the number of shots that the weapon has. Each time you fire the weapon, please cross off a box. When all the boxes are gone, you're out of ammunition and have to reload.

Additional ammunition comes in the form of sticky labels with more boxes on them. Each refers to a specific type of weapon, so you can't put 9mm automatic bullets in a .45 revolver. To reload a weapon, simply stick the new label over the old one and you can then keep on firing and crossing off the boxes. Note that the time taken to find the label and stick it on the item card is the time taken to reload the weapon!

Hand-to-hand Combat

Hand-to-hand combat is slightly more complicated. Each character will have a hand-to-hand combat rating of 1 to 3 (1 being your average man in the street and 3 being a trained killer). There are various bonuses for weapons, surprise, etc. If you're involved in a hand-to-hand fight, then compare your skills. The results are as follows.

Difference in levels
Basically a stand off. Unless interrupted, the fight will last for a while, giving other people plenty of time to intervene and stop the fight, or to take sides. If the fight continues, a referee will adjudicate on the winner, usually by having the participants play Rock, Paper, Scissors. If the fight is stopped, all participants will be Battered and Bruised. If not, the winner will be Battered and Bruised, the loser incapacitated.
A bit of a slugging match. Unless interrupted, the one with the higher score wins. The fight will last long enough for immediate by-standers to intervene and stop the fight, or to take sides. If the fight is stopped early on, only the one with the lower score will be Battered and Bruised. If not, the winner will be Battered and Bruised, the loser incapacitated.
A bit one-sided. The one with the higher score quickly wins and incapacitates their opponent. No chance for anyone to interfere.
3 or more
A complete mis-match. The one with the higher score immediately wins and can kill or incapacitate their opponent at their discretion. No chance for anyone to interfere.

Once a fight is over, the winner may do whatever they wish to their opponent unless they're stopped by someone. This includes killing them or searching their body for items.

The following additions apply in combat:

  • Surprise: Add one to your skill if you surprise your opponent (eg attack from behind)
  • Weapon: Add one to your skill if you have a weapon (eg, knife, club, etc). This does not apply to guns. If you have a gun, shoot them!
  • Additional people: Add half the skill (round up) of each additional person in the fight on your side (only applies if multiple people are attacking a single person)
  • Battered and Bruised: if you are Battered and Bruised from a previous fight, please subtract one from your total combat skill
Breaking off combat

Breaking off from combat works as follows.

You cannot avoid combat, but once combat has been started, you can attempt to withdraw from the combat at any natural break point, for example, if another character intervenes or in a multiple combat, if one opponent is downed. To break off from combat, play Rock, Paper, Scissors with all your opponents and take the worst result.

  • If you win: you get clean away.
  • If you draw: you have to stay and fight
  • If you lose: you stay and fight, but at -1 for having tried to run away (you turned your back...)
Drawing weapons

Drawing weapons in combat works as follows.

If you are involved in a combat and wish to draw a weapon, play Rock, Paper, Scissors with all your opponents and take the worst result (you cannot draw a weapon if you are surprised, but if you are not immediately defeated, you can then draw a weapon).

  • If you win: you draw your weapon and fight as if you always had it drawn. If it is a gun, you may shoot an opponent or threaten them.
  • If you draw: resolve the combat as if you had no weapon, but if you're still standing (ie you don't lose immediately), carry on as if you had a weapon
  • If you lose: your weapon is knocked from your hand and is lost for the remainder of the fight
Guns in hand-to-hand combat

Fighting someone with a gun works as follows.

If you pick a fight with someone who has a gun, or draws a gun during a fight, then they may either shoot you or threaten you. If they shoot you, then that's tough. If they threaten you, you can still jump them, but must play Rock, Paper, Scissors:

  • If you win: you knock the weapon from their hand and fight as if they have no weapon
  • If you draw: resolve the combat as if they had no weapon, but if you lose, they may chose to accept the outcome of the fight as it stands or shoot you instead
  • If you lose: they shoot you
If two or more people jump the same person, each one plays Rock, Paper, Scissors, but the person with the gun can only get one shot off. Combat is then resolved with the remaining people. Alternatively, you can attempt to run away (same rules as above for withdrawing from combat), but if you have to stay and fight, you are shot. If there is more than one person, only one shot can be gotten off. The character with the gun must chose who to play Rock, Paper, Scissors with. Everyone else gets away. If one person runs and the other jumps the character with the gun, the one who runs gets away, while the rest of the combat is resolved normally.

Multiple person combats

Fighting with multiple people is more complicated, but basically, up to three people may attack single person. If more people are involved, they must pair off. For example, if three people attack two people, there will be a separate one-on-one fight and a separate two-on-one fight. If one fight is resolved before the other, the victors from one may intervene in the other.

If you are part of a group attacking a single person, the strongest in the group adds half the levels of the weakest, rounding up once all additions have been made.

If you are attacked by multiple people and win, the outcome only applies to the weakest of the attackers (if two are equally weak, you chose). The combat may then continue with the other opponents. Anyone bruised and battered as a result of the first round subtracts one from their skill level. Anyone involved may attempt to withdraw at this point.


Miss Scarlett the pickpocket steals Hubert Bracken's pocket watch, but is seen and caught by Kathy Ryan, the Deputy Manager. Kathy relieves Miss Scarlett of the watch, but decides to let her off and keep the watch herself. However, she tells her she's going to give it back to Hubert.

Miss Scarlett later learns of Kathy's deception and decides to get even. She knows she's no match for Kathy, so she gets a pool cue, hides outside and jumps Kathy as she leaves the hotel.

Miss Scarlett isn't much good in a fight (skill 1), whereas Kathy is dead hard (skill 3 - they breed them hard in the Hotel). However, Miss Scarlett gets +1 for her weapon and +1 for surprise, so they're equal. A bruising encounter ensues, but before it can be resolved, Hubert comes along. Recognising Miss Scarlett as the nice woman he met earlier at the bar, he automatically sides with her and piles in.

Hubert isn't much use in a fight either (skill 1), but Miss Scarlett gets half his levels (rounded up) added to her two (one for her skill, one for her weapon - she has lost her bonus for surprise), making three, the same as Kathy. Normally, there would be another round of slugging it out, but Kathy pulls out her flick knife (she couldn't before because she was surprised). She plays Rock, Paper, Scissors with Miss Scarlett and wins.

Now Kathy has a score of four and she wins, taking out the weakest combatant (Hubert). Kathy decides Hubert is knocked to the ground and winded (she could have decided to stab him, but she could not have decided to kill him - since Kathy has no gripe with Hubert and has already got his watch, she decides to be nice to him, which is why she knocks him down as opposed to stabbing him).

At this point, Miss Scarlett decides to run away. Kathy and Miss Scarlett play Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide the outcome and Miss Scarlett loses again (it's not her day!). Kathy still has a total score of four (three for her skill, one for her weapon) while Miss Scarlett not only cannot run away, but suffers a -1 penalty taking her score down to one. She loses big time!

Note that if Hubert hadn't intervened, Kathy could have still drawn her flick-knife. She would only have not been able to draw it if she had lost the combat immediately (ie Miss Scarlett needed a total of 2 more than Kathy - a bit unlikely).

If Kathy had drawn a gun instead of her knife, she would then have had the option of threatening her opponents or shooting one of them. Let's say Kathy threatens them.

"Hold it, guys! One move and I'll blow your brains out, Miss Scarlett!"

Hubert, ever the gent, although not very bright, jumps Kathy and Miss Scarlett, being very bright, runs away. Miss Scarlett automatically gets away, while Kathy plays Rock, Paper, Scissors with Hubert. They draw, so Kathy can't shoot him, but gets to keep her gun. Kathy has a skill of 3, while Hubert is 1, so the difference is 2 and Kathy quickly overpowers him, but too late to get after Miss Scarlett. She now has the option of shooting Hubert, but instead decides to carefully explain that she had been trying to apprehend Miss Scarlett, who had stolen Hubert's watch. Hubert, on seeing his watch, humbly apologises and gives Kathy a big reward for her pains...

Conflict resolution

All conflict resolution in House on the Hill is carried out by means of playing Rock, Paper, Scissors, sometimes known as Paper, Scissors, Stone. It works likes this.

You get to choose one of three symbols:

  • Rock: Fist clenched into a ball
  • Paper: Hand held out flat
  • Scissors: Two fingers held out, preferably horizontally, not vertically!
The results are quite simple.
  • Rock beats Scissors (blunts the blade)
  • Paper beats Rock (wraps it up - don't ask me why - I didn't write it!)
  • Scissors beats Paper (cuts it in two)

If the same symbols are chosen, it's a draw.

Rock, Paper, Scissors is usually played as follows. After a count of three, all players involved declare, by putting their hand out in front of them, displaying the symbol chosen. Counting is usually done by taking the hand with which you're going to declare, making it into a fist and beating it into the palm of your other hand in time with the count. After the count of three, instead of beating your palm a fourth time, you simply hold out your hand, displaying the chosen symbol.

And that's it (it's far easier to demonstrate than it is to describe, honest!)...

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