So I received a press kit copy of the OSR adventure The Hell House Beckons on G+ today, and I'm in the midst of reading it now. One thing you should know before going into this review and commentary, I'm a huge fan of the movie and book The Legend of Hell House, the Frighteners,etc. It clocks in at about seventy four pages of haunting horror +18 OSR fun. The tag line is one which we've seen countless times before in games:
"In the middle of a barren dustbowl is a manor. Tall and grey, it juts out of the infertile earth like a tombstone, marking the grave of hundreds. This manor is a place of evil. A place where tortured ghosts stalk the halls, and beneath its floorboards are the remnants of atrocities committed in the name of the Devil.
It is a place from Hell, and it must be cleansed"And this is where every haunted house convention goes out the window. The house randomly generated each and every time PC's visit it. And there are some killer pieces of adventuring horror happening here and your PC's are dropped right into the middle of the action. The author provides lots and lots of tools along with a ton of NPC's plus options. While the adventure does use many of the conventions of a traditional haunted house there is a solid departure from the norm with his take on ghosts and how they should be used in OSR adventuring.
This is a mature content adventure all the way through some of the content is downright disturbing and weird, which is exactly how the adventure conducts itself in spades, it basically tries and succeeds to create an atmosphere of weird horror while maintaining its play-ability throughout. The Hell House Beckons takes the PC's and puts the adventure location center stage while using each and every little trick, monster, and horror to bring the PC's into the cross hairs of the powers of the house itself. Those ghostly powers are something that the DM generates himself except for a few of the NPC's. The adventure layout is clear and concise at what it does but this adventure is going to take an extended time to play.
The adventure is written, designed, and illustrated by Kiel Chenier from Dungeons & Donuts. And over the years I have read his blog, I love the material in this adventure/source book/toolkit. It plays fast and loose with the haunted house conventions in several places and that's fine. On the whole the artwork is good and the maps are very nice. But parties of adventurers should be very careful this has the potential to be a TPK in places.
The adventure seems to have a take no prisoners attitude toward its premise, contents, and the PC's themselves. The whole haunted house trope is taken to eleven and then wretched up to eleven in places. This makes the adventure a natural for many OSR systems especially Lamentations of the Flame Princess and other sword & sorcery retroclones. There are several systems in this title that fit the DYI attitude of the genre on several levels including what happens to the PC's who get too closely involved in the affairs of Hell House in question. There is actually a live play through as well.But beware this this live play through has spoils throughout!
As a tool kit this adventure succeeds on a number of levels and it does a damn fine job at what it tries to do. Redefine the haunted house and try to kill your PC's while making sure that you have a fun time with it.There's a ton of material here that can do some real damage to a party of adventurers on a number of levels, this is another one of those party changing locations that will haunt your players nightmares for years to come! Five out of five.