FF10: House of Hell

David Anderson
Robert Clive
Lafe Travis Fredbjornson (edited to remove massive spoilers)
Jonathan Hughson
Per Jorner
Demian Katz
Gary H. Koltookian (spoiler - trap)
Andrea Mollica
Mark J. Popp
Phil Sadler
Laurence Sinclair
John Stock
William Vanderwhelm


[David Anderson]

When I brought home a bagload of Fighting Fantasy books from a second hand book sale, I had expected this one to be one of the weakest. I hadn't read many books in the series that deviated from the standard swords and sorcery fare and had yet managed to impress me, so I was prepared to skim through it, make up my mind that it was lame, and move on to one of the other books which looked much more interesting.

Sometimes, I can be an awfully bad judge of merit.

The set up for the book isn't anything special; your car breaks down on a rainy night and the only shelter around is a creepy old mansion. It quickly gets more engaging from there, as seeking sanctuary and a phone, you bravely enter, only to find yourself locked in the guest room and, when you escape, surrounded by all kinds of hell-spawned monstrosities.

It has to be said first and foremost that this is a Steve Jackson book through and through. There's only one correct way to win, and finding it will take a lot of looking and probing in all the rooms and dark corners. But for being a fairly generic horror setting, the desire to escape and find a way to fight back against whatever evil dwells in the house is strong, and there are a fairly large number of effectively eerie encounters, although with the somewhat realistic setting, there isn't nearly the wealth of monsters found in other Fighting Fantasy books, typically just the undead. I also found it interesting that, since the book is set in the "real world," one not widely populated by monsters, the character needs to search for a weapon to be at full Skill capacity at the start of the book.

House of Hell was the first of several books in the series to have a special score to measure the player character's psychological resistance to the horrific forces they encountered, but unlike in say, Keep of the Lich-Lord or Vault of the Vampire, it works on a point system where each encounter adds a certain number of points, and if the points accumulated exceed a maximum determined with the player's other scores, the character dies of fright on the spot. It's not exactly a bad idea, what with the horror setting and everything, but it can be frustrating to get through the mansion, find all the necessary special items and secret passages, and then die of fright when fighting the last boss monster. I much preferred having a steady score to represent my mental fortitude, or even the testing your luck-style score in Beneath Nightmare Castle, as opposed to rolling low for my fear threshold and having to try to play it extra safe in House of Hell. Being adventurous is the point of these books, isn't it? That's hard to do when you have a fear score of 7 and just a few scary encounters will put you out of the game.

House of Hell is a fairly solid book all the way around that's one of my favorites in the series. I don't recommend it to the easily frustrated, but it will be an interesting read for the Fighting Fantasy player in search of a break from the standard fare of the series.


[Robert Clive]

This is a unique book in the whole FF series in the fact that it's set in the normal world, not in the future or past but now! House of Hell breaks away from the usual mission where you're sent off on a crusade to destroy some evil villain. Your initial objective is purely your own survival, although you end up seeking to destroy the house itself as part of that goal. The cover was cool, the internal illustrations are good and the writing original and interesting. This book has a real horror film feel to it. The unique nature of this book makes it a excellent edition to the FF series.



[Lafe Travis Fredbjornson]

I consider The House of Hell to be one of the hardest Fighting Fantasy book to solve, probably because of the numerous twists and turns of the passages. (Creature of Havoc is much harder.) Mapping the house on paper would be a real trick. When I get enough nerve, I may do that.

For over a decade, I was unable to escape from the house. Dozens of gruesome deaths later, I had though it was impossible and the authors had not playtested the book properly. I recently decided to tackle the house again and make detailed notes and flow charts, which explored every choice. It took three nights. In doing this, I discovered how the puzzle was written - and it all became clearer.

There are plenty of dead-end areas and red herrings to be avoided in the house. Many doors in the house can be ignored. Most rooms will just wear down your Stamina and add points to your Fear score.

Rooms can be arrived at from different directions, which will sometimes have you in a situation before you've got the required item to deal with it. Steve Jackson, the author, has skillfully connected areas of the house like tangled yarn. It's one big maze. Other tricks he's employed is having duplicate paragraphs, and worst of all -- links which cannot be gotten to by any other links (requiring you to write down reference numbers and make mathematical operations to arrive at the new number).

Rating: 10 OUT OF 10


[Jonathan Hughson]

House of Hell is different to other FF gamebooks and this is apparent the minute you start reading. Set in the real world, you play an average bloke who breaks down during a storm. Lost in an isolated part of the countryside, you set off towards a large house in the distance. Once inside you meet Lord Kelnor, the Earl of Drumer, who offers to let you stay the night...

House of Hell is absolutely brilliant from start to finish. Since you are not the usual adventurer-type character you start with a low SKILL score and have to find a weapon to defend yourself from the horrors inside the house. You also have a Fear score as in this FF you can literally die of fright!

Steve's writing in this book is superb and creates an eerie atmosphere unrivalled in FF. Tim Sell's dark illustrations work well also. The plot is quite good for an FF and makes an change from the usual dungeon crawl. I won't go into much detail about what is going on the house, but it soon becomes obvious that it isn't an ordinary stately home. There are lots of well thought out situations, puzzles, enemies etc. I especially liked the Nanka - on my first attempt I decided to open the bottle... I also liked the naming of the rooms within the house as they are all (I think) demonic names.

The adventure itself is quite hard and unforgiving - making a map is essential. There are numerous instant deaths, although they are so original it is well worth dying to read them. House of Hell is also one of the first books to make use of the idea of having items or knowledge that allow you to take a different route than the ones offered in the text without having to be prompted to do so. For example, let's say you have been told that there is a secret door somewhere, and that when you arrive there you should deduct X from the paragraph number to use it (of course you are not told that you are able to do this in the paragraph). This was a technique that Steve pioneered in Sorcery! (and used a bit too much in Creature of Havoc) and it works well here, adding to the general difficulty.

House of Hell is one of the best FFs in the entire series and is in my opinion the best in the first 10, despite some close competition from Deathtrap Dungeon.

Rating: 9/10


[Per Jorner]

House of Hell has a different set-up and structure compared to other FF books. Most importantly it sets out to take full advantage of the gamebook format; instead of dividing the narrative into discrete encounters as most books have done since Warlock of Firetop Mountain, you find yourself in a semi-chaotic, seemingly unbounded flow of decisions and consequences, where any choice may kill you off or reap you some minor reward or take you somewhere else in the house entirely. It's easy to get disoriented and uncertain of the spatial and/or temporal relationship between segments, let alone how close you are to victory or defeat. This is of course possible because all of the adventure is set in one single location, rife with secret doors and darkened passages. The fact that it's not completely obvious which rooms and events are important also means the book is more vulnerable to spoilers than most.

The difficulty seems about right; it's harder than, say, Citadel of Chaos, but not as hard as Creature of Havoc (based on the number of attempts it took me to win, at any rate). It also shares the trait of those two that you can win almost (but not quite) no matter what your stats as long as you stick to the true path. Personally I'd have preferred it a bit tougher yet, although I won't go into the details of why and how.

One disappointment of House of Hell is that it never managed to give me anything resembling a real life Fear point. Maybe it would have worked better when I was younger, or maybe it's just that cover image to the contrary, the horror elements are mostly classical: Zombies rather than Cenobites, if you catch my drift. It may also have something to do with the book's use of the Fear stat as a verbal cue: it tells you when your character gets scared and interrupts the action by having you adjust your Adventure Sheet, instead of just telling you what happens and leaving the rest up to your imagination. Tim Sell's interior art isn't very unsettling, ironically causing some moments to be less scary than they might otherwise have been (paragraph 98 is a good example of this), though as usual I like the skeletons.

Misc. quibbles: While it's no big deal that it's possible to enter the Azazel room twice, it does raise the question whether you should get to drink again from the same vial. In one significant battle you'll be told to raise your Skill by 6 if you have a certain weapon. I can only assume, although I usually don't, that this should refer to Attack Strength instead, since Skill cannot go above its initial value as explicitly stated in the rules. At another point you're asked for a password and are given four choices. Although it doesn't say, I decided you can't choose a password if you haven't found some clue that it may be the right one (else the book gets considerably easier). You may notice some small inconsistencies and give-aways in the text arising from the fact that you can arrive at a paragraph in different ways. For instance, the book may refer to your having been asleep although you weren't, or you may be asked if you want to "return" through an exit which you haven't explored yet. While this is mostly annoying, it could have been avoided with careful wording. And finally: why no points for "Mephisto"?

To sum up, it's an entertaining read and a recommended title. It's one big puzzle. I think I'm turning into a Steve Jackson fan. Never send a Hunchback to do the work of a Master of Hellfire!

Rating: 8/10


[Demian Katz]

This is one of the first Fighting Fantasy books I ever read, and it made a strong impression. The modern-day horror setting makes it stand out from the pack, and the comfortably ghoulish illustrations give it a great deal of flavor. Needless to say, I greatly looked forward to replaying it after many years... and not too surprisingly, I was left feeling rather disappointed.

Atmosphere aside, House of Hell is not a story -- it's pure puzzle. There's no real plot, just random horror cliches that stagger out of the darkness at you. Tidbits of knowledge about the house and its occupants are revealed through exploration, but it never comes together into anything like a satisfying narrative. This would be okay if the puzzle underlying the book's semblance of plot were fun to solve, but it's yet another exercise in frustration.

The author deserves some credit for being merciful in terms of combat -- there are no insanely difficult fights necessary to win, so once you find the true path, you have a reasonable chance of succeeding. However, the problem is that finding the true path is incredibly tedious. The house is a spiderweb of passages, making it extremely difficult to map in any kind of methodical way... and a map doesn't necessarily help, because victory also requires a number of specific actions to be taken at specific times, some of them counterintuitive. As far as I can tell, the only way to solve this is to reverse-engineer the whole book... and by the time you've spent that much time and effort, you no longer have any interest in the paper-thin plot. At least, that was my experience -- after picking at this book on and off for literally years, I gave in to an Internet walkthrough just to end my misery. I could have solved it on my own eventually... but why would I want to bother?

There is one other thing worth noting about this adventure -- it's probably the most-censored gamebook ever published. In America, it was retitled to eliminate the word "Hell" from the title. In Britain, later printings of the book removed an illustration of a (tastefully positioned) naked sacrificial victim. Interestingly, this picture was included in the retitled American printing but remains absent in the recent Wizard Books reissue.


[Gary H. Koltookian]


When I bought the first edition of this book as a kid back in the 1980s, I didn't know what I was getting myself into. The book was titled, "House of Hades," as evidently its American publisher thought using "Hell" was too harsh. Now the title "House of Hell" has been re-instated, and that's just what you'll have to go through in order to survive the gamebook without cheating.

For young readers, the story is chilling. You play as a person whose car breaks down on an unused, desolate road. The only refuge from the storm is a crumbling old house. Nobody appears to be home at first, but soon you are welcomed inside by the master of the house - the sinister Earl of Drumer and his butler, Franklins.

The Earl is seeminly a generous host, but what he doesn't tell you is that the house is a den of evil. Innocents who accidentally enter the house are quickly captured and sacrificed in occult rituals, and many of the rooms that await discovery are inhabited by gruesome creatures and sights guaranteed to send chills up your spine.

As a kid, it blew my mind that this gamebook escaped the notice of censors (especially with its unabashed usage of satanic symbols, names and instances of devil worship) and was published with just the title changed. Many of the names used in the book are the actual names of demonic entities that serve as the lieutenants of Hell. Much of the subject matter is quite disturbing...especially the descriptions of your fate should you fail to escape from the house.

Needless to say I was addicted to playing through the book as a teenager, but I had many sleepless nights as a result of doing so. Even as an adult, it's still nearly impossible to escape from the house.

It's a sinister little adventure not for the faint of heart, and I recommend it for more mature readers. If you're up for a challenging gamebook, and enjoy a good horror story, I highly recommend it.

Even better, read this book on a dark and stormy night with a flask of brandy...and avoid white wine at all costs!


[Andrea Mollica]

When I first read many years ago La Casa Infernale, the Italian version of House of Hell, I was really impressed.

Although I unsuccessfully tried to solve it two or three times (alas, at that time there where no Internet spoilers...) the whole book's atmosphere was weird and whimsical enough to touch with a faint scare even the gamebooks' devourer I was at those times.

But then... as I tried hard to finally solve the book I totally lost the sense of the story: in fact, House of Hell is so puzzling you can't concentrate on the storyline AND solving the book. There are so many actions you MUST perform in the unique right sequence in the UNIQUE right moment that it becomes somewhat frustrating, even for a standard FF gamebook, in which (unlike Joe Dever's Lone Wolf, for instance) collecting items and performing right actions is a sort of "brand" of the series.

Moreover HOH presents a major flaw, in my opinion: in order to solve the book, you HAVE, in first attempts, to choose wrong ways (leading you to death, sooner or later) to gather pieces of information and knowledge you need to succed.

Really a shame, because the book, and its great graphics, should have been a rare pearl of horror gamebooks.

My advice: throw away HOH and pick Forbidden Gateway instead...


[Mark J. Popp]

Possibly my favorite book but it's not suitable for everybody because it is very difficult to solve. Lafe Travis has written out a solution that can be found below. House of Hell may be the only FF Book that takes place in present-day Earth. You arrive at a strange mansion in the middle of the night and meet the owner. Eventually, you come to realize something very wrong is happening inside the house, and YOU must put a stop to it. The house is an intricate maze, and there are quite a few traps set for the reader. Many passages you take will eventually lead to doom. It's not clear what you must do (although I'm sure it's fairly obvious after awhile), or how you should accomplish your goals. You definitely need to map this sucker out, and make extensive notes. I've spent many hours just toying with the book, looking for the host, trying to escape the house, and various other things. I've cast this book in a bad light, but it really is quite good, and always keeps you guessing. You start to feel a little paranoid after awhile and become enveloped into the adventure. Check it out.

Rating: 8.5/10


[Phil Sadler]

This is my favourite Steve Jackson book and is also the scariest FF title to date! The adventure is set in a very unusual location - present day earth! That's right, it's set right here and now and, just to prove it, your character even owns a car!

The story begins one dark lonely night right in the middle of a terrible storm and out in the center of who-knows-where. You are just driving along when you have to swerve to avoid hitting an old man and end up crashing, this leaves your car undrivable but, as luck would seem to have it, there is an old house just near where you crashed. Luck has nothing to do with this coincidence though, for fate has surely turned her back on you this night.

And that's how one of the greatest FF books starts and, boy, does it only get better (or worse depending on your point of view). House of Hell also features one of the greatest covers: an ancient house with a single light flicking in one window and surrounded by certain... things.

One of the first thoughts that will grab your attention when you open this volume is the somewhat worrying addition of the Fear stat, where you can quite literally be frightened to death! Sounds good doesn't it? That's because it is! Strangely enough, as far as I can remember, the only other book to use the Fear stat was Star Strider! So, stats alone do not make a great book...

Another thing that you will quickly notice is that, not only are you unarmed and without any equipment, you are certainly no warrior to speak of. A pity, because, at the end of the book, you must face one of the most fearsome FF creatures to date!

I love the general feel of this story, because it really is just you against them and you have almost no one to turn to and absolutely nowhere to run.

A fantastic book then, full of shocks and chills and. Good old-fashioned horror!

Overall grade: 10 (out of 10)


[Laurence Sinclair]

This is a very different book. No Orcs, no sword, and no hope. In the traditional horror movie setting of a creepy old mansion in the middle of nowhere, you must do your best to survive while beset by Devil worshippers, Vampires, Ghosts and other demonic foes.

This change from the norm is what marks Steve Jackson's works as different from Ian Livingstone's. He was the first to utilise magic, to write sci-fi, and now the first to use the real world. The departure is a clever one, as the masterful author integrates the potentially disparate storyline and combat system seamlessly. A new FEAR characteristic makes you feel for your character, as opening a door could lead to a premature end, whereas in other books you could always fight your way out.

More terrifying and original creatures wait within the house, as well as old horror movie favourites given a new spin. They mesh together in a way that may seem illogical, but if you don't worry about it too much and just enjoy the ride then you can't go far wrong.

This book has even more 'all paths lead to death' choices than The Citadel of Chaos, but whereas in that book they felt like you were being cheated, here they mesh well with the overall atmosphere of the book. Death lurks all around, and you are but an ordinary human. Despite this, and the awesome opponent at the book's surprise ending, this book holds true to the cardinal rule that any adventurer can make it through!

This book relies more upon atmosphere and investigation than fighting, which is a cool change from the norm. This is definitely one of my favourite FF books; as it has the perfect mix of intrigue and gruesome death scenes, while simultaneously managing not to put you off with a repetitive plot. Plus it has a cover to die for.

Rating: 10 out of 10


[John Stock]

The first, and arguably, best of the FFs set on Earth, either past, present or future.

House of Hell is a non-stop fun fest from start till finish. While the plot isn't exactly original - your car breaks down in an abandoned country lane and just by coincidence there's a large creaky mansion nearby. But good writing and innovative elements more than make up for this.

The house is owned by Lord Kelnor, the Earl of Drumer. And as you go on, you find out that there is a sect of Satan worshippers in the house (!!!!). And, some ghost tells you you must defeat them before you can truly escape. That ain't good.

One of the best new concepts is the "Rapid-Fire Word Game". What happens is, you are given a letter and must write out the first word relating to the house that comes into your head that begins with that letter. If you hesitate, you lose a STAMINA point. Then you add your score up according to the importance of your selected words. If you get enough points, voila, but if not, it's cage time...

But one gripe I have with the book is its difficulty. It took me an awful lot of tries to complete it, far more than I would normally expect - and I got frustrated rather.

So, to sum up - Great book but marred by its difficulty.

MY RATING - 8.3/10


[William Vanderwhelm]


... So begins your adventure in House of Hades, Steve Jackon's excellent Fighting Fantasy horror gamebook. The entire adventure has you trying to survive the horrors of this vile mansion, desperate to find a way out. However, not all that you encounter will be evil... The gamebook is well written, with many encounters that are delightfully scary; so much so that there is a "FEAR" score to keep track of. Each time you get frightened, you add points to your fear score. If it reaches a certain amount (one roll of a die plus 6, determined before you begin), then you are frightened to death, and the adventure is over. All in all, House of Hades is one of the better Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. The ending even provides a surprise twist.