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Literature / House of Hell

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House of Hell is the tenth entry in the Fighting Fantasy line of Gamebooks, and notable for taking a departure from the usual formula by not only setting it on Modern-Day Earth, but having you, the protagonist, as an ordinary everyman/everywoman, and shifting the genre from Heroic Adventure to Gothic Survival Horror. Written by Steve Jackson, co-founder of Fighting Fantasy with Ian Livingstone.

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, and in spite of the pounding rain protesting on your windshield, you simply must make that important appointment tomorrow morning. Maybe you should have spent the night at that diner, where a strange old hobo with long white-and-dishevelled hair warned you to not proceed through this very night.

But too late for that, as your car just had to break down in the middle of nowhere as the storm became torrential, with not a telephone in sight.


Your frustration at losing your job tomorrow turns to hope as you spot an old and decrepit Victorian Mansion on a distant hill. Eureka! Now you can call the insurance company, have your car fixed, and make that appointment after all! But in your enthusiasm you fail to notice that not only are there no electrical lights in the windows, but no telephone line runs to this sinister mansion...

Tonight will be a night to remember.

Adapted into an iOS and Android Game by independent Australian game company Tin Man Games in January 2013.

See also Blood of the Zombies, written by Ian Livingstone.


House of Hell provides examples of:

  • And I Must Scream: Quite a few:
    • Suffering four hits from a Ghoul will paralyze you, which allows the monster to eat you alive. Not fun.
    • Not to mention if you fail the torturer's test, you are forced to chose whether to spend the rest of your life crouching in a tiny box or standing in a thin box, eventually dying as your muscle cramps break your spine either way.
    • Worst of all, the book of hypnosis in the library, which is actually a prison of trapped souls. Even if you don't fall victim to this trap, simply seeing it causes a lot of Fear Points.
    • Getting trapped in a bottle, courtesy of accidentally releasing a hostile spirit called a Nanka.
  • Battle Butler: Franklins, though he is quite reluctant to fight. Possibly because when he takes a single hit, he turns into a giant demon.
  • The Butler Did It: A variant. Franklins the Butler actually is a demon, and the true mastermind behind the Satanist cult in the house.
  • Call-Back: One of the many rooms you can enter is the Balthus Room.
  • Cool Knife: The Kris Knife - a wavy bladed knife described as finely polished and razor sharp. It gives a massive Skill bonus in combat and is the only weapon capable of killing the Final Boss.
  • Covers Always Lie: The cover of the original edition of House of Hell shows an evil horned monster and trees with malevolent eyes outside the mansion. In the story, there is nothing of danger outside the mansion.
  • Darker and Edgier: This book is much darker than anything else that had come before it in the Fighting Fantasy series in terms of illustrations and atmosphere.
  • Death by Irony: While many other books in the Fighting Fantasy series have disappointing endings, the ending of House of Hell is an exception and fits this Trope. When you defeat the Final Boss, the room catches on fire as he collapses, and you manage to flee the House right before it erupts in flames. Clearly, any villains who weren't already killed by now are not so lucky. The final words of the book, the hero's thoughts as the place is destroyed, are "A fitting end... for a House of Hell..."
  • Drop-In Nemesis: In the Balthus Room, you can search around and simply find nothing... unless you checked a box on a shelf. Doing so and the book reveals a zombie hiding behind a curtain, who then attacks you.
  • Dub-Induced Plot Hole: The French version translates "Drumer" as "Brume" (fog) but the secret password, being "Murder" is literally translated as "Meurtre". Shekou tells you in this French localization that it begins with "two of its letters". It makes you wonder how the protagonist would ever guess the word "murder"...
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: One of the most satisfying and triumphant in the series.
  • The Everyman: The character you play is not a professional adventurer or even a trained combatant, just your average every-day John/Jane Doe who is rushing to an important appointment.
  • Faustian Rebellion: The Kris Knife was used for Human Sacrifice. It is the only weapon that can hurt the Master. Being surprisingly Genre Savvy, the cult knows this.
  • The Film of the Book: House of Hell is being developed into a movie, but seems to have fallen into Development Hell.
  • Fright Deathtrap: The second most recurring Game Over scenarios (besides having all your Stamina depleted) — your Fear score exceeding the maximum level, causing you to be literally scared to death.
  • Genre Blind / Wrong Genre Savvy: If you act like the gung-ho, fearless Fantasy Action Hero more typical of the series' other entries in this book, you will meet a quick and grisly end.
    • To give one example using muscle to intimidate the Earl's hunchbacked servant like some Cowboy Cop won't get you anywhere; even if you outfight him, he'll just lie to get you off his back, and using the information he gives you will get you killed. However, if you instead offer him brandy, he gets drunk and spills very useful information.
    • Another good example is that trying to fight more than two opponents at once will get you instantly killed, no matter how high your SKILL score is. The book states that you simply can't defend yourself from so many attackers at once.
      • Which has led to accusations of Fake Longevity, as this is one of the few books in the entire series where it gives you a fight and you lose regardless of the outcome, and it does this multiple times. If the encounter kills you, you obviously lose, but if you win, then you lose on the next page. So what is the point of the fight at all? Just to eat up time and possibly force a re-read to beat the encounter and find out that you die anyway.
  • Gosh Darn It to Heck!: House of Hell was censored to House of Hades when released in the U.S. Mind you, all of the stuff about a satanic cult, ghosts clutching their blood-dripping decapitated heads, and the infamous illustration of a naked woman about to be killed in a ritual sacrifice were untouched. Just instances of the word "hell".
  • Guide Dang It!: This book is far more puzzle-orientated than any other Fighting Fantasy gamebook, requiring an exact sequence of moves to be done in a strict order.
  • Haunted House: There are a few ghosts in the house, but the living enemies are greater threats. (One spirit is actually helpful.)
  • Helpful Mook: A few. Possibly the biggest example is Shekou the hunchback, who can give you a hint on the password you need to get the Kris Knife, if you offer him brandy.
  • Hollywood Satanism: While there are many monsters and ghosts in the House, the primary antagonists are a cult of stereotypical satanists who wear robes with goat heads as masks and practice virgin sacrifices.
  • Human Sacrifice: Practised by the cultists in House of Hell.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Most of the rooms are named after demons or other similarly significant concepts.
  • The Igor: Shekou, the hunchbacked servant.
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: What other night is there to start a 1980's B-Grade horror film on?
  • Light Is Not Good: As you might find out, The Man In White is not an ally, he's actually a cult member who's fallen out of favor with the others, which is why he's locked up. He tries to hand you over to them when your guard's down to earn his freedom.
  • Jump Scare: Too many will cause your character to die of fright. Some are more notable than others, especially in one room, you look out the window and see the old man from the beginning hanged from a tree facing you, then his eyes open wide.
  • Man Behind the Man: The Earl of Drumer is NOT the true Master behind the cult, its actually Franklins The Butler. In fact, it's not clear if the Earl was aware that Franklins was actually a demon.
  • The Many Deaths of You / Have a Nice Death: Though nowhere as nasty as books like Beneath Nightmare Castle, many of your character's bad-ends can be quite sleep-depriving...
  • Meaningful Name: The Earl of Drumer, whose name is an anagram for Murder.
  • Morton's Fork:
    • You pretty much have already lost by the point where you arrive in the kitchen, since all three options offered eventually lead you to a bad end; trying to get through the door will only revealed it's locked, while fighting the ghoul or grabbing the key will both cause enough noise to bring the cultists and allow them to get you.
    • In your attempt to get the Kris Knife, a weapon essential to even complete the book, you might end up being trapped in one of the mansion's room, the only object around being a bottle containing black smoke. If you choose to look for an exit, you won't be able to find any, and end up being imprisoned forever. Choose to open the bottle instead... and you release a Nanka, a hostile genie, who then imprisons you in the bottle... forever.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: No characters seem to qualify, oddly enough (except for the Earl, although he's sort of a subversion), but names of famous demons are common here as the names of rooms, such as Abaddon, Asmodeus, and Dispater, just to name three.
  • Nintendo Hard: The first truly hair-rippingly frustrating Fighting Fantasy Gamebook, that requires one straight and narrow path to survive to the end. To give one example of how hard it is, if you fail the torturer's test, you lose, but at least it's obvious. However, if you pass the test with flying colours, he offers to give you directions. If you accept his help... Well, you're also going to lose, because if you do that, you'll bypass the room where you can find the item you need to defeat the Final Boss. Get the mediocre score on the test or refuse his advice if you get the perfect score, and you're fine - but seeing as his advice seems like a good idea if you follow it (it takes you out of the cellar), it's hard to tell.
  • No Fair Cheating: House of Hell had two paragraphs which could not possibly be reached normally unless the reader actually knew the correct "password", which chided the player for cheating. Also, it was impossible to find the item you needed to win in the end unless you followed given instructions and read ten paragraphs backwards when you were in the place where the secret door leading to the item was. (To get those instructions, you had to access one of those two "special" paragraphs mentioned above, and ask the right question.)
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
    • There are other innocent people trapped in The house of Drumer besides you, and quite a lot of them have been driven mad with desperation to escape... Helping most of them is an invitation to be stabbed in the back, often literally, to help facilitate said escape.
    • And if you happen to forget that you are not a sword-swinging action hero in this gamebook, charging in to save a beautiful naked virgin from being sacrificed by FORTY cultists on your own ends as realistically well as you can expect.
  • Obvious Rule Patch: As per the Unwinnable trope below, you die of fright if you reach your Fear Point total, and as you will accumulate a minimum of seven Fear Points in order to complete the book, as written you cannot win if your initial Fear Point total is seven. The way round this is to fudge the rule slightly so you die only if you exceed your Fear Point total.
  • Old, Dark House: The eponymous house sure looks the part.
  • One-Winged Angel: Franklins the Butler will transform into a massive Hell Demon if you wound him with the Kris Knife.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The many inhabitants of the House include a vampire, who will most likely kill you unless you have garlic on yourself.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Zombies can be met and fought as well.
  • Sanity Meter: Your Fear Score is the amount of trauma your character's heart can take; once you accumulate the maximum amount, you are Scared to Death. The introduction at the beginning claims that you can reduce your Fear Score, but in truth, there are only two situations in the story where you can (and in one of those two cases, it's near the beginning, where you may not even have any Fear Points at all).
  • Schmuck Bait: Right near the beginning, when the real adventure starts. In the kitchen you see a keyring on top of the stove. Did you really think it would be that easy? the stove is on, which burns your hand as you pick up the piping hot keys. Your screams alert the residents and it's Game Over.
  • Shout-Out: In the re-print edition, instead of rolling dice to determine then stats of your character, you can simply choose one of three pre-generated characters for your adventure. Suitably enough, given the book's horror setting, all three of the characters are named after horror films or characters:
  • Spiritual Successor: A companion/sequel of sorts called Blood of the Zombies, written by Ian Livingstone.
  • Spoiler Opening: The front cover of the Wizard Books reprint reveals the twist regarding the Big Bad.
  • Survival Horror: Funnily enough a Trope Codifier that was written eight odd years before the game Resident Evil created the genre proper.
  • Unwinnable: The Fear score: Put simply, it's not possible to get through the book alive with a rolled score of 7, since that's the minimum amount of Fear points you must accumulate to get to the end (three of them right at the end, no less) - see Obvious Rule Patch above.
  • Sword of Plot Advancement: Your only hope of completing the quest is to obtain the kris knife, the only weapon that can slay the Hell Demon which is the true Master behind the house's Satanic activities.
  • Unwinnable by Design: Make one wrong move from the correct solution and it's most likely you won't be able to win; several areas, including the kitchen and the cells beneath the house, are completely inescapable.
  • Vampires Hate Garlic: The one you meet sure does, which you can use to your advantage in order to survive your encounter with him.
  • Villainous Widow's Peak: The Earl of Drumer and the vampire inside the castle both have a Widow's peak.
  • Wrong Turn at Albuquerque: The protagonist ends up in the House of Hell as a result of following the wrong direction on his way to a meeting. It's heavily implied the man who gave him direction was part of the Satanist Cult.

Alternative Title(s): House Of Hell