House of Hell

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Join us on the tenth adventure, into the horrific House of Hell!

In 1982, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, founders of Games Workshop, released the book ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’. Intended as an introduction to tabletop role-playing games of the era, the book’s choose-your-own-adventure format mixed with simple dice-based combat proved massively successful, giving rise to a full series of books – Fighting Fantasy. With over 65 books in the series by a legion of authors and illustrators, the series’ legacy continues to this day. Come along with us as Cybe and co play through each one – with no prior knowledge, no hints or walkthroughs and no cheating!

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House of Hell was always one of my favourite Fighting Fantasy books. Almost certainly due to its horror roots, and I do love my horror genre, yes I do. So let’s waste no more time and get stuck right in! First up, my stat rolls were truly dreadful – skill was a passable 9, but I rolled a mere 16 stamina and 7 luck. My fear rating was far better, at 10. Fear is a unique statistic in this adventure – as you experience horror, you add to your fear points, and if you reach your maximum you die of fright! I’m hoping this will be enough to get me through at least a chunk of the game – I know I won’t win, because this gamebook is insanely difficult, but at very least, we can have some fun in the meantime! Just remember – do NOT go into the ktichen!

The story starts with you driving through a forest in order to get to an important appointment – you’re lost, having been given directions by a crazed old man in town. The adventure is already off to a unique twist, setting in a modern day era rather than a fantasy world. While you’re driving, you catch sight of someone on the road. Despite slamming on the breaks, you accidentally run over the figure, only to realize that it is same old man who gave you directions – you scramble out of the car, but his body is nowhere to be found! Clearly the old man is a ghost of some sort. Any way, your car won’t start back up, probably because ghosts can really mess up your ignition. Stumbling through the forest, I found an old house, which surely has a telephone that I can use – even though we are in a more real-world setting, the book was still written in the 1980s before mobile phones!

I listened at the window for a while, and overheard two men discussing an impending visit. Glancing through the glass, I notice that they are dressed in white robes – yeah, not ominous at all. I knock at the front door and am greeted by the butler, who ushers me inside and asks me to wait for the master of the house in the sitting room. While I wait there, I look at one of the room’s paintings, examining a portrait of a young lady. The woman in the painting then turns, looking at me, and tells me not to drink the white wine. Rather than fleeing the house before Doctor Frank-N-Furter makes his big arrival, I stupidly decide to sit in the room with this portrait of Nearly-Headless Nick’s sister, until the lord of the manor turns up. He invites me to stay for the evening, and offers me some wine.

Oh god, the wine! Damn right I choose the red wine – when a painting of a woman tells you to choose red wine with your night of carnage and horror, you damn well make sure that you choose the red wine! Over a dinner of roast duck, the lord of the manor tells me of the history of the fall of his house, leading to himself as the last survivor of his family line. It’s all very Edgar Allen Poe, which is just charming, so we retire for cheese and coffee in the study – at this point I fully anticipate meeting a raven perched on a pallid bust of Pallas just above the chamber door. Instead I meet a whole bucket of sedatives in the obviously drugged coffee, and collapse. Damn, I thought it was just the wine I had to watch out for! When I awake, I am tied up in a bed, just like most Saturday nights.

I get up and after a bit of trouble I manage to cut myself free from the bed. Carefully I sneak out of the room and start to explore the manor. The house is laid out over several floors, with multiple rooms, each of which bears a distinctive nameplate. I find my way to one that is called the Azazel Room. Sometimes I wish regular rooms had names like this – “No, it’s not the bathroom, it’s the Malachi Room”. Anyway, inside the room I find a laboratory, and I arm myself with a sturdy letter opener. There’s another interesting fact about this book – in order to fight at your full skill, you need a weapon. You don’t start with one automatically.

I slip quickly past the Erasmus Room, and am confronted with the ghost of a young woman, who tells me that the lord of the manor is… evil! Y’know, given the way he drugged me over dinner and tied me up, I’d have never guessed he might be a bit shady. Not that I haven’t ran into several guys like that at gaming conventions – don’t leave your drinks unattended if you’re at Origins, ladies! Either way, she tells me to find the Kris Knife, but is then ripped apart by ghost dogs before she can tell me where. Which is as strange as it sounds. Also, I need to rescue another hostage, before the lord of the manor can sacrifice her to the powers of nastiness. Maybe I should make a list.

Off to the Mephisto Room, which is empty except for a piece of rope. I take the rope, and go to the Balthus Room instead. Balthus room contains some billowing curtains, behind which is a zombie. Zombies, of course, are known for lurking behind curtains. As a side-note, I love the art for the zombie here, its claws are very sharp and jump right out the page at you. The damn thing knocks me down to 10 stamina, though. Ouch Leaving the room, I stumble around until I get the choice to go into the Diabolus Room. Oh yeah, that sounds really safe. I avoid it entirely. Y’know, if you’re ever building a house and need names for your rooms, perhaps naming them after demons isn’t the best idea?

As I walk past the hallway window, I notice the words “Mordana in Abaddon” written in fog-like ghostly writing upon them, and the instruction to turn to section 88 if that is ever useful. Great, all I need to do is find the Abaddon room, wherever that is. The next room I open contains a dead body that falls on me. Oh how lovely – the cleaners are obviously on holiday. Now I definitely know that this book is just documenting a usual Saturday night for me. Either way, I run right past the Asmodius Room, the Elbis Room, the Mammon Room and the Shaitan Room (bloody hell! None of these sound dodgy much, eh?) and start searching for the Happy Puppies And Candy Room.

I avoid all the other rooms until I find the Abaddon Room, which is full of plants and contains a dead lady in a bed. Except that she’s not quite as dead as she should be  – as I approach her eyes flicker open, and sets a pair of dogs on me. Amazingly, I kill both dogs, without sustaining damage. I imagine that this must annoy her – after all, I’ve woken her up from her death-sleep and killed her puppies, so she refuses to answer my questions until I state her name, Mordana.

I have a few options as to what I can ask her, so I choose to ask her who the ‘man in grey’ is. I don’t actually have any idea who this person might be and haven’t seen any reference to him earlier in the book, but I figure he’s important. She doesn’t know, either. Oh, well isn’t that just so very helpful! Anyway, to make things more difficult, the book then declares that I have explored enough of the upstairs rooms (NO I BLOODY HAVEN’T, let me go back to the other rooms I avoided!) and guides me downstairs.

I head into the drawing room, sensing the end of my adventure rapidly approaching. The drawing room has an ample supply of alcohol, like any good drawing room should, so I fill a hip flask with brandy, and head into the study. Once there, my fear score skyrockets. I find a piece of paper which tells me to ‘find Shekou’ – but the words appear all by themselves! This bumps my fear score up to 9, and remember my maximum is ten. Uh-oh!

The book then asks if I want to check out the bookshelf. I decide that it would be a good idea to look at a book on hypnosis, in case the lord of the manor tries to put the mind-whammy on me. The book I choose has a massive eye on the cover. The pupil contains the faces of people screaming in terror – so basically, it’s like what Facebook would be if it were an actual book instead of just a place for angry people to argue with each other while a large company steals and sells your private data (and I’m not sure which is worse). Either way, this sends my fear score right over the maximum, meaning that my character is so terrified that his head literally explodes all over the study.

I love House of Hell. Even with a relatively poor stamina and luck score, the real danger’s in the fear score, which jumps by 3 points at several parts, and can be quite lethal. I know I spent far too much time chasing one clue that never quite paid off, so this may be one of those that is meant to be played several times in order to figure out the way through it.

Either way it’s still a load of fun. Navigating around the house is much easier than in Vault of the Vampire, mostly due to the name labels on the doors, so although it’s very difficult, it, it doesn’t feel unfair. Definitely one that deserves high marks!

Cause of death: Terror-induced head-explodey.