Saturday, 3 March 2012

Fighting Fantasy #2 - The Citadel of Chaos


Title: The Citadel of Chaos

Author: Steve Jackson

Illustrator: Russ Nicholson

Published: 1983

Level of previous knowledge: I remember the objective very well, and some of the encounters, but the specifics of the route and what items are needed along the way are completely unknown to me. As with TWoFM, I suspect some things will come back to me as I go along.

Plot summary: Once again I’m to invade the home of a wizard-type person with the intention of murdering him and stealing his treasure. What? There’s no treasure this time? Pah…

OK, so this time there’s a reason for all the madness. Apparently Balthus Dire is assembling an army of Chaotics and is preparing to attack the peaceful Vale. The king has called for his assassination and for some reason, rather than sending a squad of elite ninjas or a fleet of dragons, he’s asked a wizard’s apprentice to enter the Citadel, fight past all the evil minions and take out the sorcerer on his own.

Rules: Standard rules with one major addition – the magic system. This lets me choose 2D6+6 spells from a list: Creature Copy, E.S.P., Fire, Fool’s Gold, Illusion, Levitation, Luck, Shielding, Skill, Stamina, Strength and Weakness.  

Adventure Log:

Attempt #1
Stats rolled: SKILL 8, STAMINA 15, LUCK 12, MAGIC 11
Spells selected: Creature Copy x2, Fire, Fool’s Gold, Illusion, Levitation x2, Shielding, Stamina, Strength, Weakness

Not remembering much of the adventure, I went for a wide selection of spells, making sure to take two Creature Copy spells to help accommodate my fairly poor combat skills. I did vaguely remember that the Levitation spell comes in handy somewhere late on so I grabbed a couple of those too, along with three Stamina spells.

At the gates to the Citadel I met the bizarre guards – a dog-ape and an ape-dog. To those unfamiliar with this book – yes, you read that right. It has been postulated that Steve Jackson was already running out of ideas for monsters when it came to choosing the gate guards, however they’re no more bizarre than the usual array of unfortunate hybrids that dwell in these lands. One of them definitely got a better deal than the other, though.  I was immediately given the option of bluffing them, bluffing them, or bluffing them. Picking the second option, I was forced to use a Fool’s Gold spell to prevent the situation getting ugly.

Entering the courtyard beyond, I saw a multitude of potential confrontations. My stats not quite being up to the standard they were in the first book, I decided that sneaking about was a sensible option. Despite this, I was pulled into an argument between two men over the price of a dagger. I went for a conservative estimate, not wanting to upset either of them particularly, and they came to an agreement. Apparently still pretending to be a merchant I then had an unhelpful conversation with the seller, but he did mention that merchants are despised inside the Citadel, so I made a mental note to abandon that particular charade.

The next denizen of the Citadel I came across (I’m obviously not very good at this sneaking thing) was a strange whirlwind woman. I convinced her that there was another similar creature in the courtyard that she’d apparently managed to avoid bumping into all these years, and ran off while she was distracted.

Knocking politely on the door to the keep, I was asked for a password by the rhino-man type thing within. I showed him a bunch of weeds I’d acquired from somewhere instead, and explained that I was a herbalist, in the hope that herbalists aren’t also despised here. Fortunately the creature displayed no more intelligence than the previous encounter and let me through.

After descending some steps and breaking down a door, I entered a room containing a small levitation man dressed in green. Upon seeing something flying at me, I proceeded to waste my Shielding spell to prevent myself from being hit by a tomato. Annoyed at the waste of a potentially critical spell, I drew my sword, only to find it floppified. Resigning myself to some kind of riddle, I asked his advice as to how to proceed, and received some cryptic guidance regarding the three doors before me. As the order of the doors was not specifically revealed to me, I made a couple of assumptions and went for what I thought was the middle door.

I instantly regretted this decision when I found myself blinded with some creature’s teeth embedded in my leg. Desperately using my Weakness spell to no effect, I ‘passed out’ from the pain. I awoke to discover that the whole experience was an illusory trick by the leprechaun! Ahahahahaha! Hilarious. Despite being annoyed at wasting yet another precious spell, I somehow found it in myself to forgive him, and we ended up having a friendly chat. He then handed over a shiny sword (with a most welcome +1 Attack Strength) and a mirror to help me on my way.

Once again picking the middle door, I eventually found myself confronting a dark figure in a wine cellar. Deciding that so far the denizens of this place haven’t been so bad, I opted to take the friendly approach, and he offered me a sample of one of his fine wines. Not wanting to appear uncouth, I accepted a sample of the RosĂ©, and promptly spilled all the details of my mission! Angered, I drew my sword and engaged in my first combat since entering the Citadel. Despite having an edge in combat skill, I was severely wounded before managing to finish him off. Sampling the red wine in the hope that it would have some kind of healing properties, I was disappointed that it made me hallucinate. At least this time I didn’t have a Shielding spell left to waste, instead being struck by an imaginary flying bottle and being unhurt.

The next room was guarded by some kind of stone golem. Anticipating that any move towards the door or the nearby boxes would cause it to attack, I again tried the diplomatic option and attempted to speak to it, to no avail. Reluctantly I moved forward and this produced the expected result.  Feeling lucky, I used a Creature Copy spell and sat back to watch the ensuing fight, which my creation won easily. Turning my attention to the boxes, some fiddling around with keys earned me a human-faced spider in a jar, which I shoved into my pack – who wouldn’t want such a lovely gift item?

Arriving in a large dining room, I steer well clear of the suits of armour (just in case), and head upstairs. Picking a door at random, I warily pass some goblinesque children, who surprisingly make no move to impede my progress or alert anyone to my presence. Feeling like I’d missed something here, I continued up the stairs and picked another door (maybe I should have been making a note of which route I was taking?).

I entered what appeared to be someone’s living room, and met some kind of were-chair. Attempting once more to be polite got me nowhere, and he revealed himself as a were-chair-snake and slithered towards me threateningly while a dog’s head flew off the wall at me. Briefly wondering if this was some kind of delayed effect from the wine I drank earlier, I rummaged through my pack and attempted to bribe him with some gold pieces. Remarkably this worked, and I was allowed on my way, minus all my gold, for which (I hoped) I would have no further use anyway. They also warned me to beware of the Ganjees – this immediately rang a bell in the back of my mind – a bell that sounded like ‘oh crap’…

Casting one of my Stamina spells on the stairs, I entered the next, pitch black room with trepidation. I was met by ghostly white faces and immediately cowered like the brave adventurer I was. Gathering my wits, I attempted to chuck a Fire spell at the Ganjees, but it fizzled out immediately. Fumbling in my pack, all I could find was the spider in a jar – and would you believe it, he was a friend of theirs! They freed him and he scuttled over to me, bit me on the leg and I keeled over and died. Doh.

Conclusion:  Failure. The meeting with the Ganjees brought back a few unpleasant memories. I’m guessing I needed one of the other items that were offered while I was rummaging through my pack, neither of which presented themselves to me on this playthrough. I guess next time I’ll try different doors…

Number of combats: 3 (one of which was won by a Creature Copy)


Attempt #2
Stats rolled: SKILL 12, STAMINA 16, LUCK 10, MAGIC 16
Spells selected: Creature Copy, E.S.P., Fire, Fool’s Gold x2, Illusion x2, Levitation x2, Luck, Shielding, Stamina x2, Strength x2, Weakness

More spells this time, but also a much better SKILL, so hopefully no need for more than one Creature Copy spell. Otherwise a fairly random selection as the only spell of much use to me last time was Fool’s Gold.

Approaching the bizarre guards again, I posed as a herbalist this time, to avoid having to spend my Fool’s Gold spell, but was then asked for the name of the guard I had come to visit! I guessed a name at random, and remarkably named a guard correctly, although the text did helpfully reduce the millions of potential options to a mere three.

In the courtyard I took a different route to last time (as I don’t recall finding anything useful previously), and met an old man who had been beaten about the head with a club and required some healing. Feeling his pain, I cast a Stamina spell on him. He appeared thankful and told me about the evil Ganjees who had beaten him, sadly not providing any information as to how I could avenge him. Moving on to the subject of the Citadel itself, he suddenly gasped in pain, unable to say anything, then attempted to bite my arm off. Feeling some empathy with the Ganjees who successfully sought my death in my previous incarnation, I bashed him on the head and moved on. 

Inexplicably acquiring some berries from a gnarly-looking bush, I moved on towards the doors to the keep, with an occasional glance behind me. Knocking politely once more, I bluffed the guard on the premise that I could hopefully deal with him if it turned nasty, but violence was avoided and I was allowed in. Taking a different route again, I was presented with a bell which I rang to summon the butler. He looked like a trustworthy chap (left), so I followed his directions, only to come across a sleeping Gark (fortunately there was a picture and description to tell me what this was). Unfortunately my tiptoeing attempt was clumsy and he woke up. Fumbling for my sword, I stammered something about being a guest, and surprisingly the creature let me through, imploring me not to tell anyone that he was asleep at his guard post.

Taking a door at random, I found myself dragged into some kind of gambling den with a bunch of vaguely-described creatures. Not wanting to offend, I was told that I accepted a drink of ale, and downed it in one, obviously in an attempt to impress the creatures with my hardiness. Then I was asked to play a game, so I choose one called Runestones. Annoyingly this turns out to be a pass-the-ticking-bomb-type game, and my initial luck soon wore off, leaving me with burned hands and a SKILL penalty that would have crippled my previous character. Rather than doing the sensible thing and calling it quits at this point, I asked about the rules of the more tame-sounding game of Knifey-Knifey. This turned out to be even more dangerous than Runestones (who’d have thunk it?) and I was forced to use an Illusion spell to fake my participation while I sneaked off and found myself in the dining hall.

Even though I knew that the staircase I used last time was perfectly safe, I took the other route up to the balcony this time, that being the Levitation spell I cast when the stairs collapsed from under me.

Opening another door, I saw a large stone gargoyle on a pedestal. Having no sparkly jewel embedded in its head to tempt me with, it wasted no time trying to fool me and immediately advanced. A Weakness spell slowed it down enough for me to slip past, into a familiar corridor.

Choosing another door, I entered a room containing a large chest surrounded by a deep trench. Despite the obvious trap potential, I was becoming quite concerned by this point that I still hadn’t found anything that might help me against the Ganjees, so I cast a Strength spell and leapt heroically across the pit. Opening the chest, I find it full of lead shot, and my sense of triumph faded as I realised I did not have the required musket to load with it. I managed to jump back across the trench before my Strength spell faded and then opened the door on the other side of the room. However…

…this was the Ganjees’ room, and I still had nothing to offer them. Valiantly drawing my sword, I heard one of them yell ‘Boo!’ and bravely fled through the open balcony door. After a moment to catch my breath, I realised that I was in mid-air, I attempted to cast my remaining Levitation spell only to find that the Ganjees had sucked my mana pool dry and I became a stain on slopes of Craggen Rock.

Conclusion: Failure. A shame as I started with good stats. I found practically nothing of use during this run, so will be exploring new doors next time. There can’t be that many more, surely? Interestingly I made it that far without any combat – so much for SKILL 12, although it’s nice that there does seem to be an alternative to physical violence in most cases.

Number of combats: 0


Attempt #3
Stats rolled: SKILL 8, STAMINA 16, LUCK 12, MAGIC 14
Spells selected: Creature Copy x2, E.S.P., Fire, Fool’s Gold, Illusion, Levitation x2, Shielding, Stamina x3, Strength, Weakness

With stats remarkably similar to my first attempt, I chose a similar spell list also. I’m sure that E.S.P. spell will come in handy somewhere…

Armed to the teeth with prior knowledge, I had no problem with the guards. I strode boldly out into the courtyard, only for a voice to order me to halt, and an arrow to miss me by inches.  A couple more steps and this happened again. Rather than become a pincushion I made a run for it, hoping to get out of range as quickly as possible, and was lucky enough to make it to the strange temple-like structure in the middle of the courtyard.

Inside were three chalices, each containing different coloured liquid, and some winged gremlins who scarpered as I approached. Picking a chalice at random (it would be rude not to), I drank and collapsed in a fit of giggles. Unable to try the others as well, I continued across the courtyard, and with my wits still addled by the chuckle potion, decided to prod at a mysterious mound on the floor. A second later a giant tentacle was wrapped around my leg and life wasn’t so funny any more. A timely Fire spell took care of it, however, and I was free to approach the door to the Citadel.

Successfully bluffing the guard again, I rang the bell for the butler, but this time ignored his direction and took a different passageway. Opening the first door I came to, I walked straight into a trap, tumbling down a chute and losing consciousness. I woke up in a prison cell guarded by some kind of two-headed lizardman. Ignoring the food he brought me on the basis that I hadn’t yet lost any STAMINA, I tried to engage him in conversation. Sadly I was unable to provoke an argument between the two heads, so I was left to consider my options. I chose to cast an Illusion spell in an attempt to fool him into thinking I had disappeared or escaped. The spell wore off just as the creature caught on, so I was forced into combat, but not before casting a Weakness spell to make things a lot easier.

Leaving the jail behind, I soon found myself at a dead end, but some expert searching revealed a secret door, leading to another door, which I broke down. I entered the next room and had a second to consider how familiar it was before a tomato flew at my face. Groaning inwardly, I allowed it to hit me and took the friendly approach with the leprechaun, shook his hand, and promptly lost a SKILL point as my arm went numb. Scowling, I asked his advice, received the magical sword, chose a door, was mauled once again by his illusion (this was precisely as hilarious the second time as it was the first), and went on my way.

Soon I came to the side of an underground river, beside which an old lady was washing her clothes. Something didn’t seem quite right here, so before approaching I cast my E.S.P. spell to find out who she was. It turned out she was the ghost of a washer woman killed by Balthus Dire himself, doomed to wash clothes for all eternity. Wondering if she might be able to help with the tomato stains on my tunic, I struck up a conversation with her. She was friendly and warned me that I needed to find a Fleece to be able to see the master, but she was unable to provide any laundry services so I bid her farewell.

The next room contained the stone golem, which I dealt with using a Creature Copy spell and unlocked the boxes to find the spider in a jar. The dining hall was next, so I took the safe stairs to the balcony and picked the only door beyond which I had yet to explore. Casting a Strength spell, I still managed to lose 8(!) STAMINA points in the process of battering it down. Long past any pretence of stealth, I strolled into the room, which turned out to be the bedroom of a pretty lady. Flushing with embarrassment I offered her a gift – the silver mirror I was given earlier. Apparently not a fan of her own reflection, she refused my generosity and fired jets of fire from her eyes. I instinctively cast my Shielding spell in an effort to defend myself, but it was ineffective against the magical attack so it burned into my eyes and I dropped dead.

Conclusion: Failure. This isn’t going very well, is it?

Number of combats: 2


Attempt #4
Stats rolled: SKILL 10, STAMINA 17, LUCK 10, MAGIC 17
Spells selected: Creature Copy x2, E.S.P., Fire, Fool’s Gold, Illusion, Levitation x2, Luck, Shielding x2, Stamina x3, Strength, Weakness x2

A nice MAGIC score allowed me to choose a wider array of spells, and I had a decent SKILL to fall back on.

Bluffing the guards in the usual manner, I approached a group sitting around a fire in the courtyard, and joined them without asking. This seemed to throw them off their guard slightly, to the extent that they gave me the password for the Citadel, but they got upset when I pressed for further information and things got ugly. After wiping their blood off my blade, I searched them and found some gold, some ointment and a ‘Potion of Magik’ which would allow me to cast two spells without crossing them off. I also found a key but for some reason I was only allowed to take two of the items, and in my previous attempts I had yet to find a door I couldn’t break down.

I then met the whirlwind woman again and decided to try and ignore her. After getting angry at her repeated harassment, I managed to get away from her without much trouble. I was then able to pass the door guard without resorting to bluffing as I knew the password this time.

Avoiding the route to the leprechaun’s room for now with the knowledge that I might end up there later anyway, I rang for the butler and followed his directions. This took me to the Gark’s room, and rather than mess about, I drew my sword and taught him a lesson. Stealing his money and a hairbrush (aha!).

Continuing on, I entered a library and read a book about the secrets of the Black Tower, and stumbled across the combination for the lock to Balthus Dire’s room! I then read about Balthus Dire himself, noting with particular interest a passage about sunlight being poisonous to him. Pleased with finding so much potentially useful information, I hung around for too long and got myself captured by orcs.

Waking up in a rather familiar-looking prison cell, I ate the food and then cast an Illusion spell at the Calacorm jailer, this time convincing him that he was being attacked. As it turned out, he was terrified of mice, so my illusory rodent persuaded him to let me ‘escape’. Dealing with the leprechaun in the usual way (the way that didn’t involve wasting spells or losing SKILL points!), I entered the wine cellar. Sampling a different wine at the elf’s request, I enjoyed a refreshing sip of the red and moved on my way, disappointingly without confrontation.

The stone golem proved slightly more challenging, however, as my Creature Copy spell was insufficient for once and I was forced to finish it off myself. Collecting the spider-in-the-jar, I continued into the dining room, climbed the safe staircase, and picked the same door as last time, in the hope that this time the lady within would accept a gift more graciously. I gave her the hairbrush I was carrying, and unperturbed by the Gark dandruff she became fascinated with it. I took the opportunity to grab the Golden Fleece that was on the bed, and ran for it before its original owner showed up (although the ram’s skull mounted at the end of the bed made me less concerned about this).  Ignoring the chest trap in the next room, I opened the door to the Ganjees’ room with trepidation.

After cowering in fear from the ghostly creatures, I rummaged in my backpack and pulled out the only new item I had the option to use – the jar of ointment. Apparently they revered this item (although how they intended to apply it to their ethereal bodies I had no idea) and allowed me to pass on condition that I left it behind.

Entering the next room, wondering what on earth could follow the Ganjees, I stopped in my tracks as a six-headed hydra reared up before me. Wondering why the only spell option given to me at this point was Creature Copy (six Weakness spells might have done the trick?), I rummaged once more in my backpack and pulled out the first thing that came to hand – the golden fleece. The monster cowered, then snatched it from me but made no further move to attack. Relieved at my good fortune, I dashed through the door.

Climbing some stairs, I came to a locked door – fortunately my browsing the library earlier revealed the combination for the lock. I prudently cast a Stamina spell at this point. As I opened the door, a trident flew directly towards my neck, and I immediately used a Shielding spell to deflect it. Balthus Dire doesn’t mess around with pointless illusions! Composing myself, I took a look around and spotted the sorcerer standing before me, looking (from the illustration) a bit like one of his experimental potions had gone a bit wrong. Briefly distracted, I managed to miss the giant Clawbeast standing behind me. In the nick of time, I chucked a Weakness spell and it collapsed into a pathetic heap.  Chuffed with my success, I took the opportunity to cast E.S.P., in an attempt to identify any weakness Balthus Dire may have. Receiving a garbled mess of images which weren’t a lot of help, I considered my options. In the meantime, the sorcerer was busy casting some kind of earthquake spell. I countered with a Levitation spell, and given the option of where to float, chose the window as my destination (if the roof falls in, I’m out of here!). He reacted strangely, and being advised to act quickly I pulled the drapes off the window… and sunlight streamed in! I had actually forgotten about his weakness to sunlight – however, he obviously hadn’t, and duly collapsed and died. Well, that was lucky!

Conclusion: Success! Finally! I was fairly fortunate to get through the final confrontation on the first time of asking, but the rest of the book was mostly deduced using knowledge from my previous attempts. This was a tough one, but it was a matter of time until I got the right combination of directions to get the right items.

Number of combats: 5


Review

Writing: Again we have a classic plot, albeit one which is more fleshed out than TWoFM’s. This time we have a believable backstory, a real villain, and a potential hero with a real motivation for taking said villain down (well, a motivation beyond ‘ooh shinies’). The environment itself made more sense, with rooms appearing to have a purpose rather than just being an arrangement for an adventurer to pass through. The creatures that dwell in the Citadel are imaginative and varied, and while they do verge on the bizarre, even this makes sense given the premise of the location and its master’s leanings towards Chaos. The robustness of the backstory and setting are perhaps reflected in the writing in this book – most of the rooms and creatures are described in great detail. That said, I found some of the directional descriptions a bit confusing – perhaps this was intentional, but for some sections of the book I had no real idea of where I was in the Citadel in relation to other areas.

I did find it a bit odd that such a powerful sorcerer had such a lame weakness – sunlight? Really? Unless he was a closet vampire, it’s amazing that someone so unlucky as to have such a severe allergy, survived long enough to become a powerful sorcerer. I can only assume he did all his invading at night. Also, section 400 is sadly lacking in triumphant prose, and together these two factors provide a little bit of an anti-climax to an otherwise fun duel.
Writing: 3/5

Artwork: Russ Nicholson’s art seems better suited to The Citadel of Chaos than The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and in most cases he captures the atmosphere very well. There are still some illustrations where the lighting doesn’t seem quite right, but all in all it’s pretty good stuff.
Artwork: 4/5

Design: The Citadel layout, although very simple on the surface, has some subtleties which make progress not quite as straightforward as you’d think. Taking certain routes can mean you skip past a lot of important content, and the true path which I found actually involves taking one route, getting yourself captured, and then escaping to the first room on the other route. This is a little counter-intuitive, and I can’t help but think it would have been better to allow players to backtrack rather than take such a circuitous route with no mistakes. Maybe some kind of time mechanic could have been built in to prevent the player from hanging around for too long. I might be wrong – there might be another route which works more neatly – but without reading my own adventure log I couldn’t remember the exact route I ended up taking on my 4th attempt – that’s how confusing it was!

On the other hand, I did enjoy the fact that in most cases, there is an alternative to simply fighting your way through (and in some cases, physical violence will get you killed). Most of the spells seem to have valid uses, some more than others (Creature Copy and Weakness are a godsend for low-SKILL characters) and this also means that this is one of those rare books where you can get through with very poor initial stats. It might even be possible without taking part in a single combat yourself, although you’d need two Creature Copy spells and some luck to get past the hydra.

There was one example of a clumsy mechanic where I was only allowed to pick up two of three small items – I understand the need to avoid handing everything to the player on a plate, but this could have easily been prevented by placing one of the items on an alternative path. Otherwise I felt the mechanics worked well, and were a vast improvement over the first book. The magic system is simple, generally giving you enough spells that you’ll usually have options as an alternative to combat in most situations.
Design: 3/5

Fairness: I found this gamebook quite hard in the sense that finding the correct route took quite a few attempts, and even then it didn’t really seem intuitive. However there are several solutions to most problems, and even with minimum stats it’s possible to avoid directly fighting anything that outclasses you.
Fairness: 4/5

Cheating index: 0 Razaaks (if I hadn’t managed to complete the book on my 4th attempt I might have started registering on this scale)

Average enemy stats
Successful path
5 encounters, SKILL 6.2, STAMINA 7.6
Entire book
34 encounters, SKILL 7.4, STAMINA 8.4

Instant death paragraphs: 21

Any player can win no matter how weak initial dice rolls – This is a rare occasion indeed, but would appear to be TRUE.


Final thoughts

This is an enjoyable gamebook with lots of interesting situations rather than a focus simply on hack n slash. Trying to find the correct route was fun at first, but started to grate after a few attempts, as there were no real clues as to where I was going wrong. For a single playthrough, however, I would definitely recommend this book.

Final score: 6/10


Links

10 comments:

  1. A definite two-cup-of-tea review!

    x Your proof-reader :)

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  2. Really enjoying these reviews, Paul. I do remember those bloody Ganjees causing me endless hassle, though it seems I'm a little more likely to recourse to cheating than you are. Forest of Doom, next, I take it - my first ever gamebook so I'm looking forward to that one

    Also, thanks for the mental image of Gark dandruff.

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  3. Excellent review. I especially like how you didn't give up after the first try and explained how you eventually won through to the end. Nice observations on the encounters and other features of the book.

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  4. I loved the constant links to TV tropes. :)

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  5. You don't have to get yourself captured to win - just read the book with the combination lock and move on. But that makes the book a bit short. And you'll miss out on Dire's weakness (but you don't need to know it).

    I like Citadel of Chaos a lot. But I've always found it strange that Big Bad Balthus is supposedly gathering an army yet there's no sign of it whatsoever anywhere in the book.

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  6. So that's where the ointment is! In twenty years I've never found it.

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  7. just finished the book after wanting to read it for 20 years!

    was fun!! :D

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  8. 21 instant death paragraphs in a 400 paragraph story? That's 5% of the paragraphs killing you right out! And people say Iain Livingstone's books are psychotically unfair?

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  9. 21 Instant Death paragraphs???????? That's more than 5% of all paragraphs in the book just plain killing you for turning to them!

    And people say Iain Livingstone's books are unforgiving!

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  10. there's a cool map of the citadel here -

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Fighting_fantasy_citadel_of_chaos_map.jpg

    dire's lair isn't that complex when you know where you're going!

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