The Portal at Hill House by Travis D. Hill and Lindi M. Farris-Hill, is a solo journaling game. You have travelled to Hill House where a portal has opened and you must find the objects you need in the house and its outbuildings to close it and save the world. To play all you need is a copy of the booklet, a six sided die, a pack of cards and a notebook (preferably something cute to offset the cosmic horror).
I enjoy descriptive writing but often lack the motivation and ideas to actually write. This game solved that for me. I spent a couple of very enjoyable and absorbing hours crafting a narrative that gradually revealed my fate. To begin the game you need to envision the house, you can sketch or describe it and there are prompts to help you. Next you draw floor plans of the house and any outside buildings. Three rolls of the die determines the three objects that you need to find in order to close the portal. As you move through the house you draw cards to see if the object you need is in that room and the card dictates the ambience of the location, other objects in the location, the condition of the location. At each location you are encouraged to write at least 3 to 5 sentences to describe the place. The prompts which accompanied each card drawn inspired me to write a lot more.
The final card you draw indicates the progression of time. If you run out of time the portal will grow until it engulfs the earth. All is lost. But, if you find the three objects you combine them to cast a spell which will close the portal.
There are gameplay variants including a second set of prompts in the booklet but as you draw random cards anyway and you can change and adapt your setting, I am looking forward to playing the game again and writing a different adventure. You can also add major and minor curses – some of which add specific words to your journal entries.
I thoroughly enjoyed getting lost in this game and will definitely be playing it again.
You can read the start of my journal entries below.
1, The Kitchen.
Little by little, screeching in protest, the door edged open. The noxious stench of rotting food, something dead and something unidentifiable seeped from the widening gap. Pulling my scarf over my mouth and nose, I entered the abandoned kitchen.
From the outside, the house looked in tact; inside was turbulence. On the table, plates, mugs and serving dishes, rotting remnants of a part eaten meal. A chair was upended and the others hurriedly pushed back from the table. Pans still on the hob ready for seconds for a meal that was never finished. Underneath a jaunty sign that read ‘Today’s menu – eat it or starve!’ the ingredients of the meal were strewn across the worksurface. Amongst them, was one of the objects I sought: a jar of salt peter.
I snatched it up, then paused – weighing the heaviness of the jar in my hand. I shook it. Nothing moved. Would there be enough? The lid, airtight of course, did not easily relinquish its contents. We wrestled for a long moment until finally it came free. The jar was half full but the salt peter was compressed into one solid lump. Banging the jar against the work surface it started to separate. There would be enough.
A peal of laughter startled me. A child somewhere in the house. I called out but now there was only silence. I needed to hurry. Pressing the lid firmly on the jar, I headed back through the hall towards the brightness of
2. The Sun Room
A purple light flooded the room which was filled with dead and dying plants. The stench in here was worse. More than the smell of rotting food or of the decomposing plants. A single chair covered in an old painting sheet was angled to give a good view of the gardens. Something moved beneath it. I tentatively lifted the sheet clasping my scarf tightly across my mouth and nose as the putrid smell intensified. On the chair sat a heaving, pulsing lump of some sort of meat. I dropped the cloth and stumbled out of the room into the darkness of
3. The Living Room
Wrenching open a window I tore the scarf from my face and gulped in the fresh air. The queer light streamed in now, the air quivering with motes of dust, the floor covered in a later of plaster. Turning towards a crammed bookshelf I wondered if I might find something useful in here. Peering closely at the ragged books my stomach heaved. They were bound in skin.
I climbed out of the window and headed through long grass towards
4. the greenhouses.
Broken glass crunched underfoot and above me the sky broiled and raged, flooding this strange place with darkening blue and purple light.
An upright piano was set incongruously in the corner, a dead plant and half full wine bottle rested on it. I lifted the lid and ran my fingers across the keys. Nothing. No sound. I realised that despite the broken glass and the large pool of water that had collected by my feet since I’d entered there was no sound at all – no slow drip of water, no crunch of glass, not even my own breathing.
If you fancy having a go yourself The Portal at Hill House can be downloaded or you can buy a physical copy here.