Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Fighting Fantasy #8 - Scorpion Swamp

Title: Scorpion Swamp

Author: Steve Jackson (USA)

Illustrator: Duncan Smith

Published: 1984

Level of previous knowledge: Ah, Scorpion Swamp. I remember this one quite well. Three wizards, three quests, a bunch of magic spells and an infinite amount of those damned irritating sword trees. If I can't manage this one it's because I did something really, really stupid. Or rolled a SKILL of 7.

Plot summary: A good deed has earned me some kind of magic ring which has an unfailing built-in compass and evil-proximity detection functionality. This is quite powerful, so the obvious thing to do is go off and die in a swamp somewhere so that the ring cannot possibly fall into the wrong hands. Also something about mapping.

Rules: This book has a magic system with three types of spell - good, evil and neutral. The spells you get to choose from depend on which wizard you decide to deal with. Despite the section in the rules called 'Stamina and Provisions' there are no provisions in this book - for some reason being able to cast spells removes the requirement to eat.

Click here to skip the adventure log

Adventure Log

Attempt #1
Stats rolled: SKILL 7, STAMINA 24, LUCK 9
I asked for that didn't I? At least with stamina like this my death will be protracted and painful.

Arriving at the small town of Fenmarge, I did what every good adventurer does and headed for the tavern. There I announced to the local population of slack-jawed yokels that I intended to explore Scorpion Swamp. At this news their jaws became slacker (four generations of inbreeding shows) and they tried to discourage me from this plan. As I turned away an Amish farmer appeared from nowhere and persuaded me that I should have some kind of quest to make entering the swamp worthwhile. I agreed to this, and started glancing around the tavern for floating yellow exclamation marks above the heads of the locals. The farmer explained that there were three wizards nearby - one good, one evil and one er, strange. I opted for the latter, in the hopes that such a wizard might not notice that I have all the combat skill of a ham sandwich.

So I sought out Poomchukker, eventually finding his house in the village market. The door was opened by a goblin serving girl. All my instincts screamed at me to turn and run from this fearsome foe, but I bravely stood my ground and was invited inside. After an attempt ro buy the ring from me which I immediately regretted refusing, the wizard explained that he wanted someone to map the route through the swamp to a town called Willowbend so that he could send caravans through. He then gave me a few spell gems to help me out, none of which looked particularly helpful against deadly sword trees.

I merrily departed the wizard's home and made my way to the swamp, where I committed another huge mistake by striding past the sign which warned me to turn back. Reaching the first clearing, I immediately tripped over a root and hurt my leg - I really wasn't cut out for this swamp stuff. Heading eastwards, I made my way to more solid ground where I was offered the opportunity to rest after my long, arduous journey so far. Tempting as it was, I decided to move on and also ignore the hollow tree in the clearing which looked certain to contain something deadly - a small badger perhaps.

From here I headed northwards, soon finding myself in a clearing covered in spider webs. Lacking any option to immediately turn and run for it, I walked into the clearing and found myself face to face with the Master of Spiders, a nasty-looking fellow with pointy ears and no access to a razor. I decided that the best course of action would be to set him on fire, and did so. He took exception to this, dying angrily before the entire clearing went up in flames while I escaped with singed eyebrows.

Running north, I arrived at a grassy clearing with no sign of spiders or evil-looking roots to cause me harm. As I paused to catch my breath I was assaulted by the grass itself. Hacking my way out with some difficulty and significant stamina loss, I limped eastwards where i encountered three odd-looking creatures which were apparently swamp orcs. "I say--" I began, before a pair of arrows were released, one of which caught my arm on the way past, making me even less skilful than I was previously. At this point I didn't like my chances of surviving any combat, so I ran for it, barging past them and not stopping until I found myself at another junction. I didn't know whether or not to be relieved that they hadn't pursued.

Heading westwards this time (this was going to be a hell of a caravan route) my brass ring started flashing and a calm voice said 'WARNING - EVIL PROXIMATE'. OK it didn't, but that would have been cool. Instead it tingled a bit, and I looked around to see a whole load of scorpions scuttling towards me. Transfixed in horror, I stood there like an idiot while the evil things crawled all over me, stinging all the way. Running off again (I should have adopted the position earlier) I headed north, arriving at a stone bridge crossing a river. Casting a stamina spell in case the bridge decided to attack me, I stepped gingerly on to it and started the crossing. Fortunately there were no nasty surprises.

On the other side of the bridge was a huge tree standing alone in the middle of a clearing. Suspiciously eyeing its branches for any signs of swords, I stopped to look upwards, spying a large nest at the top. Its owner then arrived and glared at me. I had no idea what the eagle was trying to tell me and pondered asking it for directions, but eventually thought better of it and backed westwards out of the clearing.

I stepped around a tree to meet a dwarf. Irritatingly, however, he wouldn't be much use in providing me with directions due to the giant scorpion pincers around his neck. Offered the chance to perform a heroic rescue or a cowardly retreat, I of course chose the latter, only mildly annoyed that I wasn't offered the more despicable option of waiting for the scorpion to lose interest in the dwarf's corpse and then having a good old fashioned loot.

With a cheery wave I continued northwards, turning west at a crossroads. The path turned southward, away from the direction in which I was generally trying to head, but at the junction a ball of dancing light was trying to beckon me westwards, off the main path. As tempting as this was, my innate fear of bumping into an evil television set asserted itself and I decided against entering the murky undergrowth.

Following the path southward, I found myself in a marshy clearing containing a large, fetid pool. Sighing and preparing for the worst, I approached, watching the pool and awaited the inevitable... lump of slime which heaved itself out of the pool and into my intended path. Dismissing the idea of trying to leap over it (such heroics are reserved for those with less ranks in Clumsy Foolishness) I froze it with an Ice spell, which worked remarkably well, and proceeded westwards once more, aiming a smug kick at the frozen remains on the way past.

Distracted by my own sense of not-quite-as-much-inferiority, I almost blundered into the gang of brigands up ahead. Hiding behind a benevolent-looking tree, I considered my options. Informed by the text that 'there is no need to be foolish', I figured that 'Charge out at them, shouting and waving your sword' could result in a sub-optimal outcome. I didn't want to turn back so I was left with a choice between magic or diplomacy. A glance at my character sheet and... diplomacy it is! (This assumes that evoking pity is a form of diplomacy.) Walking out to greet them, I was soon challenged by their leader. My plan had worked and they didn't feel that attacking me five-on-one was very sporting. However they seemed to believe that a fair fight with their leader was sporting - an assertion I disagreed with heartily, but went along with because it was better than the alternative. Fortunately, the fight was only to first blood and if I lost I would have to hand over something of value. Presumably my preferred solution of just handing something over without all the violence wouldn't have been sporting. Duly losing the fight, I handed over one of my spell gems and was allowed to continue on my way, after a nice cup of tea and a sit down. Spiffing chaps, these brigands.

Now heading north once more, I found myself on a progessively wider path which eventually led me to the town of Willowbend! Choosing a tavern at random, I found myself in a bedroom above the Black Bear, which was apparently an extremely popular night spot with the locals. I was offered the chance to go downstairs (presumably in my pyjamas, teddy bear in hand) and threaten an entire barful of drunken louts into jolly well keeping the noise down. Or I could just dream of being that stupid. Eventually I woke up to the sounds of the morning market, arose and left town again without so much as a spot of breakfast. Of course, now that I had the route to Willowbend mapped out I could do the sensible thing and go back around the swamp the long way, to avoid the perils within.

Or I could march straight back through like a sucker.

Fortunately the brigands remembered how pathetic I was and didn't feel like bothering me again and I continued my journey unmolested as far as the eagle's nest. Here I was told that I was really honestly quite curious about the extremely fascinating bundle of twigs in the tree above me and was offered another chance to explore the opportunity to have my eyes pecked out. Somehow resisting the temptation, I headed south until I arrived in a clearing containing hundreds of familiar-looking scorpions. They recognised me too, and swarmed towards me in the hope of seconds. A Fire spell soon taught them a lesson, and rather than hang about to make scorpion kabobs I left the clearing in a hurry.

Remembering that I was forced to run through this area of the swamp in a comical fashion because of all the mild peril, I decided to deviate slightly from the route I took on the way to Willowbend. Turning west, I entered a clearing where a man in a rather fetching hat was sat against a tree, eating cheese. He invited me to join him, but my ring warned me that his alignment did not make this a sensible plan. Choosing to pass him by but not make any attempt whatsoever to keep an eye on him, I shouldn't have been surprised when he sprang to his feet, choked me with his garrotte and robbed me blind. All I had left was a Stamina spell gem, however, and I was glad he left me with my sword, or my combat effectiveness would have descended to that of a tree stump.

The next clearing showed all the signs of a bloody battle. Now in a hurry to get out of the swamp before I encountered something deadly (a small vulture, for example), I declined the chance to wade in the gory remains looking for valuables and moved on. I then bumped into (not literally, thankfully) a wounded unicorn, which seemed up for a fight. I, on the other hand, was not, and was forced to run back the way I came. Back on my original route, I was again thwarted when I found the clearing where I met the Master of Spiders was still very much on fire. Retreating once more, I found myself in the clearing where I bravely defeated several orcs' attempt to kill me by running away from them. This time I was offered no such luxury, and I was forced into combat with all three of them at once. I managed to kill one but after five rounds I succumbed to their lesser incompetence.

Conclusion: Failure. So that's what it feels like to be the pinball...
Number of combats: 5

Attempt #2
Stats rolled: SKILL 9, STAMINA 20, LUCK 10
OK, providing I don't manage to trip over and cripple myself on the way to the swamp I might stand a chance this time.

After my chat with Gronar, I decided that his strategic pause after mentioning the Good wizard was a cynical attempt to manipulate my choice. I therefore decided that I would rebelliously approach the evil wizard, Grimslade. Leaving Gronar in mid-praise of the Good wizard's animal rights record, I wandered off to the edge of town in search of a suitably forboding tower. Eventually I spotted a building displaying all the traditional staples of evilness - bats: check, heads on spikes: check, gargoyles: check, pointy towers: check. As I approached the front door it swung open, revealing the wizard himself. At this point I was seriously considering a cop-out story - something about being a humble merchant - but this idea was shattered when the wizard announced not only that he knew why i was here, but also that he believed I was a pathetic waste of space. Indignant, I challenged him to a fight. In typical evil villain style, however, he summoned a minion to take his place - in this case a stone statue of a goblin. I clubbed it to dust with a table leg, but the wizard was unimpressed by my failure to avoid injury, derided my ability and complained that I'd made rather a mess of his room. I never did have much control over my temper, so a couple of minutes later I found myself looting his skinny corpse. Happily this resulted in the discovery of a magical sword, which I immediately trusted to not be an Unholy Despicable Weapon of Ultimate Cursed Doom which would suck out and enslave my soul, and took with me. Then I scarpered, being an experienced enough adventurer to know that when you kill an evil villain, his lair/cave/castle/tower always collapses (in this case, it explodes).

Conclusion: Victory! Oh right, the swamp...

Deciding that evil wasn't so great after all, I finally succumbed to the book's urgings and visited the good wizard, Selator. Despite a rather less impressive home, Selator was apparently a wizard of significant power, at least enough that he can use a crystal ball to find a plant several miles away. My mission would be to find this plant and return with one of its berries so that he could grow many of these plants and presumably save the world with their healing powers. He gave me a selection of spell gems and sent me on my way. As I headed towards the swamp I reflected that my visit to the evil wizard's home was far more interesting.

Successfully negotiating the detestable hazard that is the 'soft part' of ground in the first clearing, I headed westwards. I soon came across a log cabin, inhabited by a large hairy man who I immediately recognised as the Master of Wolves by the amulet he wore (despite having no reason to know that the Masters wore amulets). He told me to bugger off, and I saw no reason not to comply (and a couple of growling reasons to obey).

Coming to a shallow stream containing 'movement', I was given the option of wading across, or casting spells that I didn't have. I shrugged; what kind of hardy warrior would turn back because of a little water? Splashing through the water, I attracted a few leeches which attached themselves to my legs - I assume that if I had picked up any infections from the water then the leeches took care of those for me, so the loss of a few stamina points was a good trade.

Heading northwards, I groaned as I recognised the part of the swamp I had entered. Keeping an eye on the blade-wielding branches around me, I rifled through my bag for a useful spell gem, but the only spell that may have been useful was apparently the sort of magic that only evil wizards would contemplate. Fortunately my sword arm did not let me down and I made it past the gauntlet relatively unscathed.

Feeling pleased with myself, I wandered into a clearing and found myself face-to-horn with a wounded unicorn. The daft thing was mid-charge when I cast a Bless spell, healing its wounded flank. It whinnied happily before showing me where a couple of spell gems were conveniently buried - sadly containing two spells I already had, Friendship and Luck. Still, you can never have too much of either, said the unicorn, pooping a rainbow under a tree. Feeling slightly nauseous, I continued northwards.

Eventually I found myself on a riverbank, looking across a watercourse filled with crocodiles and 'other creatures' that the crocodiles had allowed to live. Given the lack of any option to feed myself to them, I meandered along the riverbank until the ground rose some twenty metres above the water and the path petered out. I was then given the option of turning southwards away from the crocofile-infested river, or diving in and attempting to swim across (known as "dinner from above"). At this point I was reminded of the wise words of my old mentor from Adventurer School: "Don't be stupid." He said that quite often, for some reason. I waved cheerily at the sunbathing crocodiles (sunbathing, of course, despite the 'evil fog' that covers the entire swamp) and headed back to the south.

Entering a pleasant glade, I met a cheerful man I presumed to be a leprechaun, sat against a tree and enjoying a picnic. My ring buzzed on my finger and I was informed that the man was evil and a thief. Marvelling at my ring's new-found ability to discern the profession of others, I decided that I didn't want this chap potentially following me around the swamp, waiting for me to turn into a corpse, so I took the initiative and attacked him. He turned out to be tougher than the average leprechaun (or perhaps it was just a cunning disguise) but I defeated him without serious injury before stealing (I guess the correct term is looting, but I like irony) his cheese and an ostentatious red cloak.

The next clearing was scorpion HQ, where all the swamp's scorpions hang out and wait for assignment. Ready for them this time, I leapt heroically to safety and continued to the oddly-sturdy stone bridge which I crossed without incident. Beyond the bridge I came across the large tree, complete with glaring eagle. Eagles apparently don't remember adventurers who met them in past lives, so I backed away carefully.

Congratulating myself on successfully avoiding the last few obstacles, I marched confidently into the next clearing where the unfortunately dwarf was busy being pincered by a giant scorpion. At this point all common sense fled, and I waded into combat. After several painful rounds, however, I was forced to escape and leave the stout fellow to his fate as a short snack. I could almost feel Selator frowning at me from afar.

Northwards I ran, past a crossroads until I was forced to slow down by some inconsiderate boulders. Atop one of them stood a ranger - apparently I knew this because he was dressed in green, despite the fact he only had one sword and had no hood, ranged weapon or animal companion that I could see. I told him whom I served, and he suggested that I speak to the Master of Gardens, who lived nearby. I left him to his stationary ranging and followed his directions to, unsurprisingly, a lush, well-tended garden. There, the Master of Gardens greeted me and gave me further directions that would lead me to the plant I sought.

Marvelling at the prevalence of friendly people in this dark, dangerous, forboding, uninhabitable, impassable, hellhole of a place, I followed his directions until I came face-to-knee with a huge giant with Gandalf syndrome. A bit of flattery and some softly-spoken words of sympathy persuaded him to let me pass, however. It turned out that his favourite handkerchief was stolen by a thief, who was then killed by me, and now here I was with the Red Cloak of Snot Collection in my possession - what a coincidence! Warning me of wolves ahead, he left me to continue on my way. Sadly I was not offered the opportunity to use a Friendship spell to encourage him to accompany me as a personal bodyguard.

A short way to the north, I found what I was looking for, as well as the saddest excuse for a final boss ever - yes, the wolves I was warned about. One of which died before it could say 'arooo'. Dispatching the other quickly, I examined the Antherica plant to find a single berry which had implausibly avoided being eaten by the local wildlife. Stowing it carefully in my backpack (one would have thought Selator or I would have had the foresight to prepare a small lunchbox or something for this purpose), I turned and headed back southwards.

Much of this journey was uneventful - the giant had wandered off, the giant scorpion had finished his meal and nothing was left but leather armour and bones (I assume the dwarf's weapon provided chronic indigestion) and the eagle was nowhere to be seen, presumably busy glaring at something else. I leapt over the scorpions once again and found myself back in the clearing containing the thief's looted remains. From here I took a slightly different route, aware that the sword trees were waiting not far from here. Heading southwards, I walked straight past the remains of a bloody battle and into a clearing where I was forced to hack my way through the rather unfriendly grass before progressing to the next area which was the home of the Master of Spiders.

Oops, I forgot about him.

Having no Fire spells with which to cause a spider apocalypse, I was forced to fight the unpleasant fellow in melee combat. Three hits from his nasty poisonous weapon would have finished me off, but fortunately he only landed one before he fell. Grabbing his amulet caused a spark to leap from it and set fire to the whole clearing - a bit of a design flaw, that. Running for my life, I made my way back to the edge of the swamp, past the ominous-looking hollowed-out tree and the fearsome 'soft part' of ground which could well have nearly finished me off.

I emerged from the swamp, battered and exhausted, and made my way to Selator's hut where the wizard waited. He was delighted to receive the berry, even though it was a little bit squashed by the remaining spell gems I had rattling around in my backpack. I stood, slightly swaying, eagerly anticipating my grand reward. Selator gave me some healing potions (the least he could do, really) and 'a hot meal'. Grimslade at least would have given me 500 gold pieces for the amulet I brought back. I risk life and limb for a flipping BERRY, and what do I get in return? A chicken casserole.

Conclusion: Success! For what it's worth.
Number of combats: 8


Writing: A very straightforward plot - no saving the world or anything like that. It seems like you're risking your life for relatively small benefits (and in my case, very small rewards). The swamp is described well enough although in many places it felt less like a dark, oppressive place and more like a romp through the forest. The book has a strong bias towards being good and doing the right thing to the point that, even if you successfully complete the 'evil' storyline, you are given a telling off and assumed to regret your actions. What if I just wanted to be plain evil?
Writing: 2/5

Artwork: The front cover leaves a lot to be desired, evoking memories of the famous Bloodbeast from Deathtrap Dungeon but nowhere near as detailed or fearsome. The interior art work is slightly better but much of it seems quite faded and there are very few pictures that show any kind of backgrounds that give any impression that you're in a dangerous swamp.
Artwork: 2/5

Design: Scorpion Swamp is unique in that it plays almost like a board game, with fixed locations that can be navigated and re-visited. This is handled quite well for the most part, with each clearing having a reference you should turn to if you have been there previously. It does fall down occasionally though, with some odd situations occuring, such as approaching a bridge from the north, then having to cross the bridge to leave northwards. The layout is fine - it doesn't map perfectly in a couple of places and it would have been nice to get some idea of how far you're travelling between clearings in these cases, but it's supposed to be difficult to navigate anyway. There isn't much to mention beyond the navigation though - some more items usable in different situations might have made things more interesting.
Design: 3/5

Fairness: All in all this doesn't seem too difficult an adventure at first, and my memories of it certainly weren't frustrating ones, but it isn't an easy as you might expect. There are a few encounters which can really cause you problems and a couple of wrong choices could make things awkward even for a highly skilled adventurer. The three quests vary slightly in difficulty but this isn't a bad thing - serving evil should probably be more stressful than doing good.
Fairness: 4/5

Cheating index: 0 Razaaks

Average enemy stats
Successful path
8 encounters, SKILL 8.3, STAMINA 9.4
Entire book
X encounters, SKILL 9.1, STAMINA 9.0

Instant death paragraphs:16 plus a few endings of dubious success

Any player can win no matter how weak initial dice rolls: With the right spell gems and some prudent choices in the swamp, this may well in fact be TRUE.

Final thoughts

Scorpion Swamp won't go down as one of the great classic Fighting Fantasy gamebooks but it does deserve praise for being a little bit different. The board game-like style allows a level of non-linearity rare in gamebooks and gives the player a sense of freedom. Combined with some robust game design it could have been a real winner, however the straightforward gameplay and unexciting plot hold it back somewhat.

Final score: 5/10


Titannica page
Buy Scorpion Swamp on

Playthroughs from other bloggers

Turn to 400
Fighting Dantasy
Fighting For Your Fantasy
Adventure Gameblog
Seven Fourteen Seven
The Sidekickcast

Friday, 15 August 2014

It's About Time...

In traditional blogger style, the few weeks I implied in the last post has turned into 7 and a half months. However I've finally gotten back on the FF horse and completed my Scorpion Swamp playthrough (the horse, however, did not make it). I'm on holiday for the next week but will be posting the playthrough next weekend, and making a start on Caverns of the Snow Witch soon after. If I have any followers left, thanks for your patience :)

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Happy New Year!

Merry 2014 everyone :) This is just a quick note to apologise to any foolhardy souls who have continued following this blog in the hope of updates. 2013 was rather a busy year, mostly because of work and the time spent on the course I was studying which has led to more responsibility at work which has meant more time spent at work, etc etc etc. Anyway, my final deadline is in 2 weeks, and after that I'm determined to get things back on track, so expect to read all about my misadventures in a swamp some time soon!

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Fighting Fantasy #7 - Island of the Lizard King

Title: Island of the Lizard King

Author: Ian Livingstone

Illustrator: Alan Langford (interior), Iain McCaig (cover)

Published: 1984

Level of previous knowledge: There's this lizard, right, and... erm, he's a king of some island or something. I remember surprisingly little considering that I recall quite enjoying this one. Of course I remember a certain ill-fated companion called Mungo :)

Plot summary: There's this lizard, right, and he has proclaimed himself king of Fire Island. Frankly he's welcome to it, but his minions have started to raid the villages of civilised people and enlist them into slavery in the gold mines. The Lizard King clearly needs a good slapping, and Mungo is the man to do it. I've decided to go along and watch, though.

Rules: Normal stats, check; ten provisions, check; inexplicable free potion; check. Nothing unusual here.

Click here to skip the adventure log

Adventure Log

Attempt #1
Stats rolled: SKILL 10, STAMINA 19, LUCK 12

Mungo and I did some catch-up bonding on the boat as we sailed the short distance to Fire Island, and I learned more about his family than I was really interested in. Apparently his father was a circus freak who committed suicide via the medium of Deathtrap Dungeon (good fighter, couldn't tell the difference between a real emerald and a fake one? I know the chap). I soon found myself hoping that Mungo did not inherit his father's sense of adventure. After all, it would be a disaster if he got himself killed early on, wouldn't it?

'Land ahoy!' yelled Mungo, somewhat unnecessarily, pointing at the ever-nearing island with a great big volcano poking out of it. Checking my, err Mungo's, provisions, I put on Mungo's backpack and prepared to follow him like the dutiful companion I was. Disembarking, I was surprised to be given the choice of which direction to clamber. Surely Mungo, the hero of the story, should be making these decisions! Respectfully steering him to the west, we emerged on a beach upon which sat a tiny hut. Musing on the subject of deck chairs I was taken aback when I heard a cry of pain and looked up to see Mungo playing with a crab the size of a house. From his advantageous position within one of the creature's pincers, Mungo looked like he had everything under control, but I thought I should show willing and wandered over to help out. Mungo dropped agilely to the ground and laid down to watch the fight, a master confident in his protege's abilities.

The crab soon went down, but not without snipping away half of my health first. Disgruntled, I turned to Mungo to demand why he did not simply slay the creature instead of toying with it. Then I noticed that his body looked slightly more crushed than usual, and it struck me that all that blood should probably have been inside his skin. He said a few heroic last words before expiring in front of me, leaving me with the task of killing the Lizard King all on my own. Selfish bastard.

The hut proved a disappointment but a thorough search turned up a jug accompanied by a note recommending the potion within as some kind of protection against poisonous plants. Knocking it back, I left the hut and followed a goat track up the side of the cliff. Gasping for breath, I made it to the top and drank most of my water on the spot, before noting that I was low on water. Did I not think of this before? Wouldn't it have been prudent to bring more than one flask? Did I bury Mungo's supply with his unhelpful remains? I'll never know.

Now that I'd arrived on the island proper, I decided to set up camp for the night. Either we timed our arrival perfectly to experience an unnecessary night in the jungle or it took all day to kill a crab and walk up a path. I survived the horrors of the night, however, and in the morning headed directly through the trees towards the volcano. Almost immediately I was given the opportunity to rest, which I accepted gratefully - all those minutes of leisurely hiking through the jungle had really taken it out of me. Unfortunately the tree I leaned against had other ideas, and tried to choke me with its vines. I struggled free, but not without suffering the effects of a minor throttling, i.e. minus 1 SKILL point.

Deep in the undergrowth I had the misfortune to meet several of the locals, fellows with an unpleasant hobby of collecting and wearing the heads of their previous victims. Happily they lined up to fight me one at a time, and I was able to keep my head. Ahahaha. Their bag of bananas and coconuts restored a single STAMINA point, making me wonder what sort of superfoods were present in my own, much more effective, provisions. Climbing a tree, I spotted what I believed to be the headhunters' village to the west. Choosing a life unhindered by shrunken head-wearing freaks, I took a route which avoided the village altogether.

map of the island
Soon I came across a crazy man who lived in a tree. He took objection to my offer to visit him, but I insisted despite the barrage of coconuts he launched at me. He then gave me a whole load of information about the island and the lizard men, offering more if I was willing to hand over some of my provisions. I almost asked why he was so happy to throw away his collection of coconuts if he was struggling for food, but then I remembered how nutritious the food on this island wasn't. He also gave me a bent wire with which I was supposed to stab the Lizard King. Or something.

After a brief altercation with a giant dragonfly I spotted some fungus attached to a log. Breaking some off, I created a cloud of spores which made my face all lumpy. This reminded me of my resolution never to eat anything mushroom-like in a Fighting Fantasy adventure, so I quickly discarded the fungus, opting instead to rub some random nearby leaves on my face. Contrary to common sense, this actually improved the situation and my face was soon back to normal. Moving on, I encountered a strange crystal in the middle of a clearing. Continuing with my dangerous habit of investigating the unknown (except mushrooms) I touched the pretty rock and received a health boost.

Hacking my way through the vegetation, I managed to attract the attention of six more locals. These pygmies did not share the repulsive habit of wearing shrunken heads on their belts; however they did have blowpipes aimed at me. Missing the option to run for it, I chose to attempt communication rather than combat, and found them to be surprisingly un-hostile, merely expecting me to hand over one of my possessions. Or at least that was the general drift I inferred from the grunting. Giving them an axe I picked up somewhere, I was surprised when they gathered around it and starting chanting. Obviously this axe was of great value, and I had just given it away. Prodding the nearest pygmy, I made the universal motion for "give me stuff or I'll destroy you and everything you hold dear". He forked over some nuts and berries, which were obviously genetically modified as they were twice as nutritious as the bag of bananas consumed earlier.

marsh hopper
Deep in the swamp I encountered a strange green reptilian creature. Rather than simply ignoring it or slaying it for the evil lizard man-thing that it was, I decided to call out to it. I then realised it was a marsh hopper, a creature which would know its way through the marsh, but was also likely to lead me to its bigger, man-eating colleagues. I followed it for some distance but when it changed direction I became suspicious and went my own way... straight into an area populated by giant leeches. I was forced to use salt from my provisions to remove them from my skin - sadly I must have dropped the rest of the meal into the swamp and was unable to gain any further benefit from it.

Eventually the swamp gave way to grassy hills and after dodging a suspiciously well-timed rockfall, came across an ominous sign reading 'Turn back or die'. Declining to take either option, I found a snuff box half-buried in the sand. Inside was a note written by one of the slaves, directing me to his hidden raft and giving me directions to the mines. Soon afterwards I was attacked by a random lizard, which steadfastly refused to lead me anywhere and insisted on gnawing on me for a bit. Eventually I tired of this and chopped its head off, continuing on to a pond where a random toad tried to gnaw on me. The toad kept his loot in a casket at the bottom of the pond, so I waded manfully in to retrieve it. Inside I found some kind of inter-dimensional bag, some boots and a ring of oops-I-dropped-my-sword. Muttering under my breath, I downed the skill potion I had brought along for such an occasion.

I soon came to a river and found the raft that the snuff box-owning note-writing mine-slaving chap had informed me about. Punting upriver, I saw off a crocodile which tried to hitch a lift, then ignored a crazy-looking man who was also trying to hitch a lift by jumping up and down and waving his arms around. Eventually I arrived at my destination and ditched the raft by a group of mud huts. Channeling my inner ninja, I swiftly dealt with a pair of lizard men (so *that's* what they look like) and headed into the mines. Within minutes I was lost, taking one random turning after another. At one point I was assaulted by a crowd of angry armadillos, but their combat prowess proved insufficient to prevent my progress.

At length I arrived at a vertical shaft and immediately considered turning back, but then remembered that I was wearing a pair of nondescript boots. In a flash of absolute genius, I decided to walk down the wall of the shaft, in the hope that my boots just happened to be enchanted with some kind of walking-on-shaft-walls spell. And they were! Brilliant. At the bottom of the shaft I found an extremely shiny sword. Tossing my old one noisily down the shaft (let's not attract unnecessary attention or anything, eh) I returned to the previous junction and wandered about in a lost fashion for a further while. After hiding from a couple of patrol guards, I bashed another one over the head and took his bucket of water. I soon arrived in a chamber containing six dwarf slaves toiling at the rock face (obviously Happy was on a break) accompanied by a whip-waving lizard man who was not as pretty as I might have expected. Carefully setting the bucket down I charged at the creature, and eventually the dwarfs decided that hammering lizard man skull was more fun than hammering rock.

Disguising myself with the lizard man's cloak, I followed the dwarfs deeper into the tunnels, where we soon came across another lizard man. My cunning disguise fooled him into believing I was a member of his species, and we passed without incident. Eventually we turned a corner and found a group of slaves and a pair of orc overseers. I didn't have long to ponder why orcs were allowed more rights under the lizard man regime than better-looking humanoids before one of them hurled himself on to the point of my very shiny sword. I led the slaves out of the mine and back to the mud huts where we partied long into the night and planned our assault on the Lizard King's fortress. One of the slaves took me to one side and informed me that the Lizard King was virtually invincible due to a strange parasitic creature sitting on his head called a Gonchong, and therefore such an assault would be suicide. he advised me to seek out the island's shaman who could apparently help me out.

So off I went. Having no idea where the shaman might be, I headed for the volcano which may as well have had 'Chez Shaman' written all over it. Avoiding an overly-tempting fruit tree, I opted instead to investigate a sack of food hanging from the next tree. Sitting down for an impromptu meal I was soon forced to earn my lunch when a bear lumbered out of the undergrowth and demanded that I share. I declined, things got messy and I ended up with a chewy steak on the side. Moving on, I came across some chalk writing on a rock which advised that a feather worn in my hair would ensure peaceful contact with the shaman. At least I was on the right track - part of me was thinking how hilarious it would be if the shaman lived on a beach at the other end of the island, keeping a giant crab for company.

Pausing briefly to dispatch an angry hill troll, I soon noticed a dead seagull on the ground. Plucking a feather and tying it to my hair I thought that the convenience of this find was more than outweighed by the fact that I now felt like a bit of a tit. Still, it could have been worse. Further up the hill I was attached by Racquel Welch, who fortunately proved to be a lousy shot with a spear and an even lousier melee fighter. In her cave I found some red powder, which I did not hesitate to... dab on my face? As I did so a mysterious internal voice told me that the powder would protect me from attempts to control my mind. I replied that I suspected it would also protect me from any sensible person trying to engage me in conversation.

not a good look

Eventually arriving at the foot of the volcano, I came to a pool of disgusting yellow mud and thought it would be a great idea to interfere with some odd-looking eggs in a bizarre-looking nest beside it. I should not have been surprised when a bizarre-looking odd creature broke out of one of the eggs and launched itself at my neck in a frightening display of rapid early learning. Ending its short, violent life, I proceeded to climb the volcano. Before long I came to a circle of stones, within which were placed several items of useless-looking items. Here I was offered the chance to place one of my own items in the circle, or to try to remove one of the existing items. Lacking any option to ignore the circle altogether, I deposited some junk and some apparently magical rocks started glowing, leading the way onwards.

Before I knew it I was face to face with the shaman, who barely contained his snigger at my appearance. Bloody hypocrite. He told me that in order to share his knowledge of how to defeat the Lizard King and his Gonchong, I would have to undergo disturbing and painful challenges. "Bugger that", I said, and turned to leave. "They're easy really" said the shaman. Still suspicious that he was going to force me into combat with some twisted zombie resurrection of Mungo, I reluctantly agreed. First I opted for the revulsion test, figuring that the encounters on my journey so far would have desensitised me somewhat. Seconds later maggots were crawling all over me, but unknown to me (but now known to me) the ring of oops-I-stabbed-myself I was still wearing (damn Loctite) gave the wearer the ability to see through illusions. The maggots disappeared, and I grinned smugly (and confusedly) at the shaman. The second test was a test of fear, which the red powder on my face enabled me to pass. Lastly I endured the painful and disturbing task of throwing a dagger into an orange, and this convinced the shaman that I was worthy of his knowledge. I would require two things to defeat the Lizard King - one of his own fire swords (disguised as rusty knives) that he kept close by in order to give potential usurpers a fair fight, and a monkey, which he didn't.

Heading back whence I came, I bluffed my way past a hobgoblin who was inexplicably guarding a bridge across a ravine, before bumping into a lizard man riding a dinosaur which was unbluffable, inescapable, and very nearly undefeatable. My shiny sword prevailed, however, and I was then forced to fight the lizard man, who fared no better against me than did his mount. As my reward, a short time later the gods of served up another platter of convenience when I came across a monkey, chained to the corpse of its previous owner. I set it free and it perched on my shoulder rather than rushing off to its natural habitat or something silly like that. After a brief, awkward meeting with Racquel Welch's sister and her pet cat, I was reunited with my army of ex-slaves.

Several minutes passed while I hastily explained the presence of the monkey, the seagull feather and my somewhat flushed appearance. Eventually I managed to persuade them to march on the Lizard King's fort. Battle was joined. We got our butts kicked for a while before I managed to poke a cyclops in the eye and break through the enemy lines into the fort. Inside I found an old man chained in a prison cell, but before I could free him my ring of oops-was-that-your-eye? buzzed and warned me, quite specifically, that the old man was in fact a shapechanger. I dashed out of the cell and tried another door. I entered a torture chamber, full of nasty sharp looking things, among which were some rusty knives. Heeding the finally-useful words of the shaman, I grabbed one of the latter and it transformed into one of the Lizard King's fire swords.

lizard king and pet
Fully equipped, I continued through the fort, rescuing a slave dwarf from a two-headed lizard man by employing some l33t ninja skills. Soon I found myself at a spiral staircase, which I 'had a feeling' I should climb. At the top I emerged on to a balcony overlooking the battlefield, and found the oddly-guilty-looking Lizard King himself and his pet. The black lion shredded me generously before I put him down, and I staggered towards the scaly monarch. Then he spotted the monkey on my shoulder and a puddle started to form at his feet. Taking advantage of the creature's maimouphobia, I had no trouble cutting him down. As soon as he crashed to the floor, I destroyed the Gonchong before it could get up to any more mischief. The battle was won!

Conclusion: Success!
Number of combats: 20


Writing: Following on from the success of Deathtrap Dungeon, this is another well-written entry to the Fighting Fantasy series. This is perhaps the first book where you feel that the main character has a bit of a background, with connections that exist previous to the events of the book. The author does a good job of making you feel attached to Mungo in a very short time, before taking him out of the picture quite abruptly, which is a shame. The environment is nicely described in detail but does feel a bit samey at times. On the whole, the story is an interesting one, but not really exploited as much as it could have been, with most of the book devoted to simply travelling around the island.
Writing: 3/5

Artwork: Another fantastic front cover by Iain McCaig sets the tone for the book perfectly. The internal illustrations are very good, capturing the tropical feel of the island perfectly, and the monsters encountered along the way are extremely detailed.
Artwork: 4/5

Design: This adventure is a fairly linear one. There are alternative paths to take on a few occasions, but more often than not they end up merging again before long. The main problem is, whichever path you take the encounters seem to be selected from a random encounter table - enemy after enemy is thrown at you with no sense of progress or cohesion. Clues and items are presented to you without requiring any effort to find them, and even if you somehow miss them, most of them aren't actually important anyway. It's obvious that Ian Livingstone has attempted to do things a bit differently compared to his last two books in that there is no 'shopping list' and no one true path, but this one somehow lacks urgency or direction.
Design: 1/5

Fairness: In terms of the structure of the adventure there is nothing too difficult here - anyone playing sans dice would waltz straight through the adventure without any problems. It's a different story with dice however - a low-skilled character is unlikely to make it past the 5th paragraph or so, and a couple of unavoidable SKILL 11 opponents towards the end will prove a tough challenge for all but those with the most impressive numbers. A SKILL of 10 was just enough to get me through first time when applying combat bonuses to attack strength rather than SKILL.
Fairness: 2/5

Cheating index: 0 Razaaks

Average enemy stats
Successful path
23 encounters, SKILL 7.5, STAMINA 7.6
Entire book
69 encounters, SKILL 7.5, STAMINA 7.2

Instant death paragraphs: 9

Any player can win no matter how weak initial dice rolls: This is an outrageous LIE.

Final thoughts

I enjoyed my romp across Fire Island but it all felt a little bit straightforward. The difficulty is both too low in terms of finding your way through the book and too high in terms of unavoidable combats. You are not required to achieve anything in order to win - even the shaman's tests are almost irrelevant because the items he tells you to find are easily found along the way. Nevertheless the adventure is fun, but doesn't necessarily have much in the way of replay value.

Final score: 5/10


Titannica page
Buy Island of the Lizard King on

Playthroughs from other bloggers

Turn to 400
Fighting Dantasy
Fighting For Your Fantasy
Adventure Gameblog
Seven Fourteen Seven
The Sidekickcast

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Fighting Fantasy #6 - Deathtrap Dungeon

Firstly I'd like to show off the fact that my battered copy of Deathtrap Dungeon was signed by Ian Livingstone himself a few months ago. So nyeh. Whether this is a good omen for the adventure ahead, I do not know...

Title: Deathtrap Dungeon

Author: Ian Livingstone

Illustrator: Ian McCaig

Published: 1984

Level of previous knowledge: Sketchy. I do remember a ninja, a barbarian companion and having to collect gems. And of course the happy little fellow on the front cover.

Plot summary: Once a year the town of Fang is host to the Trial of Champions. Warriors from all over the lands come to enter Deathtrap Dungeon, a maze conceived by the twisted mind of Baron Sukumvit. No-one has ever survived the journey through the dungeon to claim the prize, but this year I have decided that I'll give it a shot.

Rules: Standard rules.

Click here to skip the adventure log

Adventure Log

Attempt #1
Stats rolled: SKILL 12, STAMINA 23, LUCK 12 (Yep, really. If I was going to cheat on my stats, I'd do it after I'd worked out the correct route!)

The entrance to the dungeon
Taking time out from my regular superhero duties, I stroll casually into the dungeon without fear...

Making my way confidently down the tunnel, I soon came to a stone table upon which were six boxes, each with a contestant's name on it. I opened the box with my name on to find two gold pieces and a warning from Baron Sukumvit that I would need to find certain items to get through the dungeon. Already knowing the author of the book, this came as no surprise. Sadly there was no option to open the other boxes and check them for gold - to be honest I wondered why the other contestants hadn't taken it all. Although maybe there were more than two gold pieces in the box originally? Curse you, other contestants!

Beyond the table was a junction. Aware that this decision would likely determine whether I stood any chance of success or not, I completely ignored the white arrow on the wall which pointed west, and chose the other direction. That'll show em. Judging from footprints on the ground, only one of the previous four contestants went this way, and I followed the tracks until I encountered a large, spongy, brown boulder. Consulting the adventurer's handbook on how to deal with large spongy things, I discovered that it could either swallow me up on physical contact, or explode violently if I pierced it with a weapon, so I looked for an option that involved doing neither of these things. Doh. Clambering gracelessly on to the boulder, expecting to be pulled in and suffocated at any moment, I was relieved to make it to the other side unharmed.

Soon the atmosphere in the tunnel started to become extremely hot. Finding a bamboo pipe on the wall, I examined it to find it filled with a clear liquid. Shrugging at what was probably another 50/50 chance of death, I took the risk and swallowed the liquid. Failing to drop dead on the spot, I continued on through the extreme temperature, and was informed that my choice had kept me alive. I preferred to believe that my superhero powers were responsible.

Coming to a door with an iron plate, I peered through to see a pit, beyond which was a rope on an iron hook. Entering the room, I bounded heroically across the pit, grabbed the rope and bounded heroically back across the pit before the wall grew spikes or the ceiling fell in. Suspiciously no such calamity occured, so I checked the rope for hidden weakness. Finding none, I crept out of the room, feeling like I'd beaten the system somehow. Maybe the pit was a trap and had already been set off by the owner of the footprints.

Lost in thought, I turned a corner and blundered into a pair of heavily-armed orcs, one of whom swung a morning star at me, knocking my sword to the ground. Unarmed, I pummelled the orcs into submission, and looted the corpses for a gold piece and a wooden tube. Weapons, who needs em? I will. Sadly I was unable to pick up the morning star, so retrieved my sword and contiued on.

The footprints led towards another door ahead, where they stopped abruptly. Opening the door carefully, I was greeted by the sight of a dead barbarian, impaled upon a spike trap. Gingerly making my way over to him, I searched his... loincloth, and found some dried meat which I chewed thoughtfully on. The trap was guarding a goblet containing a sparkling red liquid. Having already consumed two things in this dungeon and gotten away with it, I didn't feel like pushing my luck any further, and gave the drink a miss.

My route soon rejoined that of the other contestants, and I followed their footprints into a large cavern. In its centre were two stuffed bird-like creatures flanking a huge idol with jewelled eyes. Entranced by their glitteringness, I made a lasso with my rope, hurled it around the idol's neck and started to climb. Eyeing the birdies suspiciously, I reached the top and attempted to prise out one of the jewels. Obviously I was a poor judge of genuine precious stones - the 'emerald' shattered and released poisonous gas into my face, knocking me out. Not so bad, except for the fact that I was hanging off a rope six metres off the ground. Bounce, bounce, crunch. So long, superhero.

Conclusion: Failure. I fell foul of a classic 50/50 decision. Maybe I was fortunate to get as far as I did.

Number of combats: 2

Attempt #2
Stats rolled: SKILL 9, STAMINA 20, LUCK 9
Just a regular Joe this time - this might be a short trip.

Walking down the tunnel somewhat less confidently than my previous incarnation, I opened the box for the gold pieces and chose the other direction at the junction, following the three sets of footprints. Choosing randomly at the next junction I eventually encountered an unfriendly caveman who I named Ishbo. Despite conforming perfectly to caveman stereotypes (club - check, animal hides - check, grunt grunt spit - check) Ishbo did not survive our meeting, but he did manage to give me a minor clubbing for my trouble. Dismissing a bracelet made from rat skulls I found on his corpse (maybe it was a Bracelet of Devolution?) I nursed my wounds and continued along the tunnel.

Soon I spotted an abandoned backpack leaning nonchalantly against the wall. Not pausing to wonder why it was left here, I decided to have a quick rifle through it, being rewarded for my greed by a single gold piece and a bite from a nasty great big dirty poisonous spider, draining 6 STAMINA points. Ow, said I. I'll have a SKILL point too, said the spider. Grrrr.

Ignoring a couple of side tunnels (Who has time for those? It's not like I've been told I need to find and use several items if I hope to pass triumphantly through Deathtrap Dungeon) I found myself in a familiar chamber containing the jewel-eyed idol and the mangled corpse of my former self. Clearly not having learned my lesson, I attempted the climb again, this time without a rope. I was lucky enough to make it to the top, and strained to remember which eye was the fake that caused my demise last time. As I touched the other eye, two flying guardian bird-type things flapped towards me and attempted to peck my eyes out. Despite my precarious position I was able to fend them off, at the cost of merely all but 2 STAMINA points. Before doing anything else I had a large picnic on the idol's head, then prised out the emerald. Ignoring the other one, I descended acrobatically and entered the tunnel once more.

The next room I entered was completely bare. Suspecting a trap, I turned to leave but the door slammed shut. A voice then boomed out, demanding that I pay my respects to the dungeon's creator. Not expecting to survive much longer anyway, I responded that Sukumvit was a worm, and was surprised when the voice approved of my spirit. A gold ring magically appeared, which I picked up and wore immediately, without any suspicion whatsoever.

Further along the tunnel, I saw a shaft of blue light with images of laughing faces. Shrugging, I walked straight into it, causing the faces to look a bit upset. One of them whispered a poem about jumping into some water later on if I wanted to get through the dungeon, so I made a mental note of it and moved on.

Coming to another side door, I pushed it open and found myself in a cavern containing a pit of worms, wriggling around a fancy-looking dagger. Worms are harmless, right? Right. Lacking the option to hack at the worms with my sword, I reached in and retrieved the dagger without incident. That is, until a giant fly with a penchant for shiny blades attacked me for stealing its most prized possession. I showed it my own shiny blade, and it duly collapsed into a slimy, twitching heap.

The next junction offered no clues as to what might lie in each direction, so I flipped a gold piece and went eastwards. I soon came to a pit with a rope hanging from the ceiling. Deciding on the sensible option, I reached for the rope, had a quick check for any scheming bats, took a run up and leapt across. Unfortunately some dastard had sabotaged the rope, so I was soon on a short trip to the bottom of the pit, where I thankfully arrived fairly quickly, at the cost of a mere 2 STAMINA points. Oof, said I. And a SKILL point, said the floor. Argh.

Clambering out of the pit with a smooth rock in hand which turned out to be a ruby (score!) I continued on my way, whistling happily as I went. I may only have a SKILL of 7, but it wasn't like this book was going to contain any really hard fights, was it?

In the next room a crazy old man demanded that I answer his question correctly or be turned to stone. Knowing that it was certain death to attack anyone in lieu of answering a riddle, I reluctantly agreed. Fortunately the question was simple maths, and my hours of counting my decreasing STAMINA stood me in good stead. As a reward he restored a few of my stat points, including one of the SKILL points I had lost.

Further down the tunnel I entered another room containing a stone chair, upon which was seated an armed skeleton holding a piece of parchment. Cringing at the obvious trap, but apparently not thinking to try to disarm or otherwise get the jump on the skeleton before it stirred into motion, I reached for the parchment like a moron and ended up in a fair fight with the creature. Fortunately I only took minor wounds before I was standing amidst a pile of bones. The parchment seemed to be a page from an ancient manticore safety manual, so I held on to it, just in case.

I descended some stairs into a cellar, where I was offered the appealing chance of eating some mushrooms growing in a pile of rubbish. Sticking to my rule of never eating mushrooms in a Fighting Fantasy book (at least one named like this one) I ignored them and continued along the tunnel until I came to a trapdoor in the ceiling, behind which I could hear muffled voices. Assuming this was still Deathtrap Dungeon and not the cellar of The Staggering Foal, I deduced that the owners of the voices were unlikely to be friendly, so burst enthusiastically through the trapdoor to meet them. I cut down the two goblins in no time and had a quick rummage in their cupboards. I found nothing but a wooden mallet and some iron spikes, which I put in my backpack in case the Trial of Champions would ever require me to hang an exceptionally large picture frame.

Leaving through a door chosen by coin flippage, I came to a door decorated with someone's severed hand. Wondering if this was some form of goblinesque feng shui, I opened the door with caution, to find the hand's previous owner chained to the wall. I obliged his request to set him free, and he helpfully informed me that I would need to collect gems and precious stones if I wanted to succeed in my quest. I felt fairly positive about this, with two already in my possession. With that, he ran off to get himself killed in the dungeon somewhere.

Not far along the tunnel I was offered the chance to enter a metre-wide steel pipe in the wall. Unable to resist the golden opportunity to make myself as vulnerable as possible, I crawled into the dark, cramped space. After dragging myself along in an undignified fashion for a while I was informed that the pipe was also slimy. Ew! Reconsidering my direction, I quickly backed out of the pipe, grabbing a small wooden box on the way. The box contained a key and a sapphire, which was almost worth getting covered in goo for.

Squelching onwards, I soon came across the corpse of two orc guards, apparently slain by one of the other contestants. One of the orcs was wearing a necklace made from teeth, which I ignored - it was probably a Necklace of Extra Slobber or something. I soon had the pleasure of meeting their slayer, a taciturn fellow sporting a large axe and not much else - a key indication of barbarianism. Barbarism. Barbadarianism. Translating his occasional grunts, I agreed to accompany him for the time being.

Our fragile alliance was soon tested when we came across a wide pit, into which my companion, who was called Throm, offered to lower me with his rope. Judging him to be a straightforward kind of fellow who would have hacked off my head by now if he had a mind to, I trusted him to do this. Reaching the bottom at a non-fatal speed, I discovered a tunnel leading onwards and the barbarian climbed down to join me. Inside the tunnel was a shelf upon which sat two leather-bound books. The first fell apart in my hands but provided me with some information about the attractive creature on the front cover of the book, the Bloodbeast. The other book contained a bottle of liquid, which I decided looked like massage oil. I rubbed it into my wounds enthusiastically, but was disappointed when nothing happened. Shrugging at the barbarian, who was clearly starting to doubt my sanity, I led the way down the tunnel.

Throm soon drew us to a halt, sensing the approach of a pair of cave trolls. We hid in the shadows and I was about to suggest some kind of trickery to give us the upper hand when he leapt up and charged them. Sighing, I followed him into combat, and received a severe bashing for my trouble, barely surviving the fight. We found a ring on one of the corpses, which Throm told me would increase the wearer's powers if he proved strong enough to wear it. He also warned me not to touch it, which I took as a veiled insult, and smugly put the ring on my finger. That'd show him. Seconds later my body started to shake and I passed out manfully. I came to when Throm removed the ring from my finger, crushed it under his boot and grunted in disapproval. My grunt translator beeped and said 'southern softy'.

I staggered after Throm and we entered a cavern full of stalactites. Throm had an encounter with a resident mouse which he decided was hilarious and his booming laughter brought half of the ceiling down. Fortunately we were able to dash through the archway without injury before I gave him a good telling off.

Our next encounter was not so amusing. We entered a torchlit chamber to find a dwarf Trialmaster awaiting our arrival. He informed us that only one of us would be allowed to pass this point and this would be determined by a series of tests. Throm was all for squashing him there and then, and part of me agreed, but the meta-part of me that knows Ian Livingstone decided that this was probably a poor idea. I succeeded at a guessing game, then grabbed a cobra by the throat without injury. For the final test, I was given a couple of anagrams and told that each corresponded to the name of a monster. Choosing to fight the minotaur, I was soon made to regret my choice as it battered me to a pulp.

Conclusion: Failure. I made it much further than I expected with a SKILL of 9 though.

Number of combats: 9

Attempt #3
Stats rolled: SKILL 7, STAMINA 17, LUCK 11
These stats are a contradiction. Surely no-one this lucky would have both a SKILL of 7 and an irresistable compulsion to explore a deadly dungeon.

As my fate was already sealed by the first die roll, I resolved that during this attempt I would explore new routes where possible, and avoid combat as much as I could. With that in mind I took a different tunnel, and eventually came across a large iron bell, suspended from the ceiling. Wondering if it would summon a very large, helpful butler, I decided to give it a ring. The resulting bong caused the whole area to vibrate intensely, and I soon collapsed to the ground and wriggled about a bit. I lost 2 SKILL points before I was able to still the bell, making me approximately as skilled in combat as a three-legged weasel.

Further into the dungeon I encountered a pair of hobgoblins having a scrap in the middle of the tunnel. Rather than risk attracting their attention, I slipped past stealthily. After a sharp right turn the tunnel led to a series of wooden poles positioned across the tunnel, half a metre from the ground. Deciding to walk across the top of them, I was unsurprised when one shattered and sent splinters flying everywhere. 9 STAMINA points worth of splinters.

Irritated, I limped onwards to find myself in the chamber with the large statue, complete with guardians. Deciding the climb was pointless to attempt, I passed by, giving one of the immobile guardians a pat on the head as I did so. Soon after I declined the chance to fight a giant fly, some kind of giant worm, and an animated skeleton. In the mean time I managed to drop my shield into a pit after an extremely girly attempt to throw it across, costing me yet another SKILL point. Make that a one-legged weasel.

Eventually I arrived at the stone steps with a trapdoor at the top. Bursting through with my sword drawn would force me into a combat I had little chance of winning, so I decided on the diplomatic approach. Smoothing my hair back, I knocked politely on the trapdoor and waited. The trapdoor was thrown open and before I could say "Rat onna stick?" a goblin thrust a spear through my neck and my trial was over. Still, I avoided combat successfully...

Conclusion: Failure. Obviously.

Number of combats: 0

Attempt #4
Stats rolled: SKILL 12, STAMINA 20, LUCK 7
That will be a Potion of Fortune then.

All went smoothly through the first part of the dungeon and I was able to retrieve the emerald from the statue with only a minor scratch from the annoying guardians. I drank my potion of fortune fairly early on, just before attempting to jump over the pit without throwing my gear into it first. I avenged my previous incaration by enthusiastically hacking up the pair of goblins, and continued until I had met my barbarian friend Throm and progressed as far as the dwarf Trialmaster's chamber.

This time I failed at the dice game, and was forced to swallow a pill that turned me from slightly ill-fated to haplessly cursed. I fared better with the minotaur this time, and was allowed some time to recover before the final test. This was yet another combat, but this time I had to face Throm, who had apparently reacted badly to being bitten by the cobra in the second test and was now a delirious wreck. Despite this he managed to 'axe' some questions of my ability (huh? huh?) before I reluctantly put him down. The dwarf then showed up, crossbow aimed at my chest, and led me to a secret door leading onwards. Glaring at him coldly but thinking better of attacking a Trialmaster, I entered the tunnel.

Arriving at a junction, I headed towards a buzzing noise until I discovered its source - a large room full of giant insects, walled off by a large glass panel. In the middle of the room was a crown, in which was set a large diamond. Lacking any pesticide or means of covering up a bit (the option of wearing my backpack on my head was not, sadly, offered) I smashed the glass, waded into the room and retrieved the crown. By the time I escaped the room I had realised that the diamond was fake and I was in serious need of some Afterbite. I really didn't prepare well for this venture, did I?

Scratching furiously, I soon heard some footsteps approaching. Not wanting anyone to see me with large red welts forming on my face, I hid in the shadows while whoever it was shuffled past. Choosing randomly at the next junction, I came across a wooden chair shaped like a bird of prey, set into the wall. Usually I wouldn't even consider such a thing, but I was really itchy by this point and needed to pause for a good old scratch. Besides, a chair that has death practically written all over it wouldn't be particularly cunning, would it? Sitting down carefully, I gripped the arms in gruesome anticipation. All that happened was that a hidden panel sprang open, revealing a potion, helpfully labelled 'Doppelganger Potion'. Or was it Poison?

Beyond the chair the tunnel sloped downwards until it ended at a deep pool of water. Remembering the poem recited by the spirit girl some time ago, I fished around in my backpack for my diving gear. D'oh - I forgot that too! Nevertheless I swam down into the pool, eventually emerging on the other side of the wall. I then realised that I hadn't closed my lunchbox properly and all of my sandwiches were completely ruined.

Immediately feeling peckish, I continued on until I came to a cavern, in which a girl was wrestling with a giant snake. Racing to her aid, I heroically beheaded the creature but was too late to save her life. She gave me a couple of helpful pointers before expiring so I could loot her corpse in peace. Quite how she'd managed to accumulate so little on her journey through a dungeon packed with free stuff I didn't know, but at least she had some bread. And she'd remembered to close her lunchbox. Om nom nom. I buried her underneath a handy snake corpse and went on my way.

Coming to an iron grille in the floor, I reached in to retrieve a rope and grapple underneath. One thing I remembered from adventurer school is that you are often required to reach into things. One thing I forgot was that reaching into things often resulting in finding other things. In this case a large tentacle attached itself to my arm and crushed it comprehensively for 3 SKILL points of damage. That reminded me belatedly of another lesson I had forgotten - never reach into things with your sword arm. Idiot.

The next room I entered contained a wooden chest and footprints showing that someone had recently approached it. Expecting it to be looted (and therefore untrapped) already, I approached, only for my spidey-senses to start tingling. The potion I drank earlier enabled me to sense the trap still within the chest. Opening it from a distance, I avoided the poisonous gas but also avoided finding anything useful, only a pendant chain with a missing stone. Curse you, other contestant!

Continuing down the tunnel I soon came to a cavern containing a large number of troglodytes. Drinking my Doppelganger potion to disguise me as one of them (I couldn't help but feel that disguising as Baron Sukumvit might be more useful) I was able to walk past them, but the effects soon wore off and I was soon sprinting down the tunnel with the gang of hollering creatures in tow. I came to a locked door and in a remarkable feat of dexterity and quick thinking, produced the correct key from my backpack, unlocked the door, slipped through and locked it behind me before the troglodytes caught up.

Feeling pretty pleased with myself, I walked onward, soon meeting an old man with some kind of wicker basket-elevator contraption. He offered to give me a lift to the upper level, which was apparently the place to be. Giving him some junk from my backpack, I clambered into the basket and was heaved upwards to meet a female troll named Ivy. She demanded payment for her services so I handed her something from my backpack. I was penalised a LUCK point for giving stuff away, but frankly I was glad to be shot of that wooden spike.

Swiftly dispatching a pair of guard dogs I found myself in front of a high wall, beyond which some large creature was roaring ferociously. Climbing up the wall with the help of a grappling iron, I peered over to see the monstrous dinosaur-like pit fiend standing in the way of the exit. Deciding at random that now would be a good time to throw away that silly bone charm the elf girl was carrying, I tossed it into the pit, where the monster grabbed it in its jaws. The charm expanded to fill the creature's mouth and it stomped about in an annoyed fashion. Taking advantage of its distraction, I started to climb down the wall. My progress was hastened when the pit fiend slammed against me, causing me to fall the rest of the way to the floor. A LUCK score roughly equivalent to that of a flattened squirrel may have had something to do with this. I was then forced to engage the pit fiend in combat, which is of course where this adventure ended. Stupid tentacle.

Conclusion: Failure. My hazy memories of the book tell me that I'm on the right track, though, so progress made in that sense.

Number of combats: 14

Attempt #5

Stats rolled: SKILL 7, STAMINA 21, LUCK 9

Unsurprisingly this attempt ended at the claws of the flying guardians while scaling the statue.

Conclusion: Failure.

Number of combats: 4

OK, this is getting silly now. Time to turn cheat mode on. Four dice for stats, allocated as I see fit.

Attempt #6

Stats rolled: SKILL 12, STAMINA 20, LUCK 10
I take a Potion of Skill this time - I'm not taking any chances.

Taking the same path as in attempt #4, I managed to get as far as the pit fiend's room in similar shape, with a few notable differences - a) I had lost my rope to the stubborn statue, b) I had remembered to close my lunchbox properly and therefore still had some sandwiches left, and c) I had a suit of chainmail I took from the corpse of a certain dwarf Trialmaster who really had it coming.

Unfortunately the lack of a rope left me no choice (for some reason the bone charm wasn't an option from this angle) but to stroll into the pit fiend's er, pit, and wave my sword defiantly at it. An epic battle ensued, but in the end I was victorious, sitting on the monster's tail to eat a few sandwiches. At this point I noticed a trapdoor in the sand, which I lifted to find a shiny, well-crafted shield. Opening the door and entering the tunnel, I felt a surge of confidence - what with my shiny shield and chainmail, I was now a powerhouse of god-like proportions.

So it was no surprise when who other than Chuck Norris turned up to challenge me. Having just ignored a sign on the wall which tried to persuade me to leave my weapons behind, I had just entered a large hall when a throwing star whistled past my head, missing by inches. I was able to best him in combat and stripped away his mask, only to find the dead eyes of an imposter staring back at me. Curses! He hardly had any items, obviously preferring to travel light. Ah well, he wouldn't have stood a chance anyway. Unless killing me and looting my corpse for gems was his plan all along. Apparently he'd just thrown away his last throwing star, but I did find a diamond, which cheered me up no end. Lacking any other options, I jumped into the chute in the far wall.

When I emerged in the room below, I immediately regretted drawing attention to myself by yelling 'wheeee!' on the way down. I was face to face with the famous Bloodbeast, a disgusting creature wallowing in a pool of slime. Fortunately I was a well-read sort of chap and remembered what the leather-bound book said about the Bloodbeast. Stepping forward, I carefully employed my strategy of hacking desperately at its eyes until I hit the real ones. This took a while because somehow a fat, bulbous creature with no appendages to speak of, stuck in a pool of slime is just as skilled in combat as the now deceased pit fiend. Eventually my blade found its mark and I ran for it, not that the thing should have been able to stop me anyway.

Charging into the next room at full pelt, I was approached by a bizarre-looking manticore (although it was probably fairly normal-looking as manticores go). Asking the creature to hold on a sec, I rummaged in my backpack until I found the parchment I found on the skeleton earlier on. While the manticore tapped its foot impatiently, I had a quick read, put the scroll away and lifted my shield in front of me. As I nodded for it to carry on, the manticore unleashed a volley of spikes straight at my shield. "Jolly good shot!" I shouted, proceeding to hack the magical beast to bits.

No sooner did I catch my breath than a gnome showed up. Introducing himself as Igbut, one of the Trialmasters, he warned me that his magical powers were great and I should not attack him. He explained that I had arrived at the exit door, and needed to insert three gems into slots in the correct order to unlock it. Despite a brief panic that one of them might be one that I missed this time on account of not falling into a pit, I had all three of the required gems. Having received no clues as to the correct order, I chose at random and braced myself for a zapping. To my amazement, I had guessed right first time, and the door began to swing open. Before I could proceed Igbut ran excitedly through the door in front of me, smashing an orb on the ground which emitted acrid smoke. I avoided suffocation, and grumpily followed the gnome down the tunnel, only to find his corpse, complete with crossbow bolt ear accessory. Where are your magical powers now, shorty? Proceeding to the exit, I was greeted by cheering crowds who looked astonished to see me. Rather than wonder about why they were here if they weren't expecting a victor, I grinned smugly at Baron Sukumvit, who presented me with my prize and proclaimed me Champion of Deathtrap Dungeon.

Conclusion: Success!

Number of combats:16


Writing: The descriptions do a good job of portraying the environment of Deathtrap Dungeon. The concept of the book is an entertaining one - the idea of a deadly contest is engaging and enables the writer to experiment with all sorts of inventive scenarios. In this way the adventure consists of a number of isolated and varied encounters but does not suffer because of it. As the player you feel like you are being constantly tested, and the presence of puzzles, traps and Trialmasters emphasises this. The only thing I feel could have been improved on is the interaction with the other contestants, or at least the effects of their passage through the dungeon before you.
Writing: 4/5

Artwork: The dungeon is depicted superbly and the art does a great job of showing the reader how grim and dark the place is. The detail present in Ian McCaig's illustrations is amazing, especially in the drawings of the troglodytes, the mirror demon and the exit door, just to name a few. The bloodbeast on the cover is fantastic as well - such a shame they changed the cover for the Wizard reprint.
Artwork: 5/5

Design: This book contains mechanisms that would later be described as 'classic Ian Livingstone'. The shopping list of required items, the extremely narrow true path and the plethora of unavoidable, powerful adversaries are all typical signs of his work. These are quite divisive among gamebook players, some of whom argue that gamebooks should not rely so much on luck, whether through the dice or through uninformed choice. However this is Deathtrap Dungeon - it has been designed by Baron Sukumvit as a twisted game to challenge participants in as punishing a way as possible. The very concept of this book gives the writer an excuse to demonstrate his style, and he has done so very successfully.

The dungeon itself is laid out in a fairly interesting way, giving the player various routes to choose from, even though many are on the 'wrong path'. Sometimes I could kind of tell that I was on the correct route because the encounters and puzzles were more interesting and greater in number. Some of the false paths towards the end seem to hurry you to the Bloodbeast's room, as if the writer didn't think it was worth fleshing them out when you were going to fail anyway.
Design: 4/5

Fairness: I'm torn between two perspectives on this category. This book is downright unfair, there's no doubt about that. The only reason I finished it in so few attempts was that some memories came back to me as I played, such as the fact that crawling further down the slippery pipe after picking up the sapphire leads to instant death. That said, of all the books in the Fighting Fantasy series, this one (along with Trial of Champions) has the ultimate excuse - the dungeon is supposed to be unfair, and you are not expected to prevail. On one hand, this level of challenge enhances replay value and makes victory all the sweeter. On the other hand, replaying a book over and over until you find the solution becomes a mechanical exercise which isn't some players' idea of fun.
Fairness: 3/5

Cheating index: Yes, I helped my stats along on the final attempt by rolling four dice and allocating them as I wanted. There really was no point in taking any character with a SKILL lower than 11 into the dungeon once I'd worked out where the true path was.

 1 Razaak

Average enemy stats
Successful path
16 encounters, SKILL 8.4, STAMINA 8.2
Entire book
40 encounters, SKILL 8.4, STAMINA 8.3

Instant death paragraphs: 30

Any player can win no matter how weak initial dice rolls: It doesn't really need saying that this is a complete LIE.

Final thoughts

The level of difficulty may make this book a bit frustrating for some but there is no doubt that this is a classic and in my opinion is one of the most enjoyable of the series. Even if you don't finish it, or end up cheating to do so, you'll have a lot of fun exploring the dungeon, and finding new and entertaining ways to get yourself killed.

Final score: 8/10


Titannica page
Buy Deathtrap Dungeon on

Playthroughs from other bloggers

Turn to 400
Fighting Dantasy
Fighting For Your Fantasy
Adventure Gameblog