Author: Ian Livingstone
Illustrator: Ian McCaig
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.
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Adventure LogAttempt #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!)
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Conclusion: Failure. I made it much further than I expected with a SKILL of 9 though.
Number of combats: 9
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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
Stats rolled: SKILL 7, STAMINA 21, LUCK 9
Unsurprisingly this attempt ended at the claws of the flying guardians while scaling the statue.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Number of combats:16
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.
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.
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.
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.
Average enemy stats
16 encounters, SKILL 8.4, STAMINA 8.2
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 thoughtsThe 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
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