Sunday, 17 January 2016

Citadel of Chaos playthrough

 Written by  Steve Jackson, Artwork by Russ Nicholson

There's so much to say about this book, I feel that I want to give it a bit of an introduction first.

Citadel of Chaos was the second FF book, and in terms of structure and formula it's very similar to Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Where it differs is in terms of location - rather than a dungeon, we're given a castle. As a result, the rooms we encounter feel more cohesive, as if they're a functional part of a greater castle, as opposed to the isolated rooms of Firetop. We can see elements of Citadel crop up many times in FF books whenever you're exploring a large castle or temple.

The storyline is equally simple. Balthus Dire is planning to conquor a friendly, happy region and you've been asked to slip into the castle and 'take care' of Dire before the invasion can go ahead. Hope you like pre-emptive assassination missions! Dire, if you remember, was one of the three iconic evil wizards in FF books, along with Zagor and Marr. While Zagor appeared in three books, and Marr's history and personality were powerful factors in Creature of Havoc, this is the only time we see Dire. Frankly, he's kinda the 'little brother' of the three, and I do think he's the one character I'd love to see more done with. If I were to write my own adventure gamebook (and I am playing with the idea of doing so), I'd imagine Dire would be an important character.

In terms of how the game works, there's some changes to Firetop. For a start, meals are gone. You don't start with any. Your only way to regain stamina is via magic. Yeah, magic - in this adventure, you're an apprentice wizard. It's the first time that FF tries to give the player spells to use, which is a system that FF revisits often, with mixed success. Remember that at this point in the series, there was no 'Fighting Fantasy formula', so experiments like this are so very cool to see.

It's also worth noting that thus far, this book has probably seen the most number of different covers. The original artwork is my fave, with a conga-line of monsters pacing out of the titular citadel, with a beastie I've come to call 'Big Wooly' at the front giving the audience a toothy grin. The second cover, which is the one I grew up with, features a big green tornado-type entity. And although the wizard publish copy has a third one, my copy is the Big Wooly one. I love this one the best.

Let's par-tay down!
My wizard is the weakest wizard in the land. He has a puny skill of 7 and a stamina of 14. I think the dice gods are mocking me. Guessing that I'm going to take a lot of damage, I take four Stamina spells (to heal my sorry ass), three Shield spells, one Strength spell, I also take two ESP spells in case I require the extra clues. And working from my memory of playing this game as a kid, I stock up on four Levitation spells, which I remember being very important in this particular adventure. I try to think of a name for my character. 'Rincewind' is too obvious. I choose a far more insulting name, a name perfectly fitting for someone who has no skill, no genuine mystic abilities, and who will contribute nothing of value to this escapade. I call him James Van Praagh.

Like anyone on a top-secret assassination mission going into an enemy castle to kill the lord, I decide to sneak into the castle under cover of moonlight, scaling one of the rear walls and... nah, just kidding, I walk right up to the main door and ask the guards to let me in!

The guards here are awesome. One is an ape-dog, and the other is a dog-ape. I'm not sure which is which, but they're clearly the result of one of Dire's mad experiments in head-swapping. I must confess that if I were a mad wizard, I'd want a puppy with a gorilla's head to guard my castle. I'd call him Pip.

The book gives me the chance of telling Pip that I'm a tradesman - this is kinda true, as assassination is a trade. "Hi, mind if I come in and brutally slaughter your master and all his servants?" It seems that Pip doesn't take too kindly to that suggestion, as both guards attack. Given that James Van Praagh is the weakest and most inept being in the known world, he barely survives this combat. I suspect this will be a short adventure, folks!

The next section is pure comedy gold. I call for the guardsman, who comes running. He opens the door to the castle, while I hide in the shadows. I'm not sure what shadows, but... yeah, just 'the shadows'. Anyway, the guardsman opens the door and sees the dead Ape-Dog and Dog-Ape, and rather than drawing his sword or raising a call for alarm, he instead stands still just long enough for me to knock him out as well.

I can only assume that I then drag all three bodies into 'the shadows', because leaving the in one big pile at the front of the castle seems a bit silly. Of course, I could just drag every dead body back here and leave them in one huge pile, just for fun. People could travel from across Titan to see the pile of dead bodies, it could be a tourist attraction. Although now that I think about it, this seems to be the kind of perfect tourist idea for people taking their holidays in Game of Thrones. "Come to Westeros, see the biggest pile of dead bodies in the world!"

Keeping with my intention of actually sneaking into the castle, I slip along the inner wall of the courtyard until I come to a wounded man. He is badly hurt, and will probably die unless I cast one of my precious Stamina spells on him. There's no guarantee that he won't attack me afterwards though. But eh, who wants to live forever (with the exception of Connor McLeod)? I cast a Stamina spell on him.

My pile of dead bodies is bigger than yours!
He thanks me, and tells me that he has been attacked by Ganjees, which I'm assuming is a type of goblin and not a river in India. Although given how heavily polluted the river is meant to be, I wouldn't be surprised either way. To thank me for my kindness, he gives me a magic shield that will boost my skill up to a decent level... no, I'm kidding. He bites me.

Yeah, I should have just left him in bleeding in the ground. The man staggers around, possessed like something out of one of the overlooked prequel movies to The Exorcist. My stamina is low at this point, so I choose to throw a spell at him in order to avoid combat. From the list it gives me, the only one I have is 'Shield'. So I throw a magic barrier between us and... the book tells me 'Your spell had no effect'.

It doesn't tell me WHY it had no effect. It just didn't work.

So, the man bites me again, and I whack him out with the flat of my sword. I spend one of my few remaining Stamina spells to get back some of that health, and promptly drag the man's dead body to the front of the main gates to be left in the pile there.

I continue to sneak along the inner wall of the courtyard, when the book asks me to test my luck to avoid falling into a giant pit. Okay, pause for a moment. What is a giant pit doing in the middle of a courtyard? Wouldn't a good number of Dire's minions end up falling into it? I just can't imagine any reason that this pit would be here. Is it a crack in the foundation of the citadel that's just grown to ridiculous degree? Surely Dire could just contract some builders to come in and fix it!

Imagine, if you will, one of Balthus Dire's lieutenants knocking on his door at the end of each day, handing him a report of how many of his troops he'd lost that day simply from them falling down a hole! Is this Dire's idea of a massive joke to play on his troops? Is he just trolling them? If it were a latrine or something, I'd understand it. But it's not, it's just a giant pit that happens to have opened up in the middle of the courtyard of his citadel!

Right, enough about the hole. I eventually get to the doorway into the citadel's main building, picking some berries off a nearby shrub as I do. The door itself is heavy, and I'm given two options. I can either knock on the door to call the guard to open it, or I can cast my only Strength spell and use that to work my way through it. Naturally, I don't want to attract too much attention, so I spend my Strength spell. I take a few steps back, charge at the door... and take a stamina point of damage as I collide with it. The door doesn't budge. Once again, James Van Praagh demonstrates just how inept and useless he is.

Balthus Dire's new guard
The door is opened by a bipedal rhinoceros in plate armour. Rather than trying to impale me on its horn right away, it asks me for the password. I don't have one, so I instead take a test of luck and try to convince him that I'm a travelling herbalist who was summoned by Dire. Amazingly, the guard believes me and lets me pass. I am now inside... the Citadel of Chaos!!

I head down the narrow hallway until I see some stairs leading down towards a door. I want to open this door, but it is locked. The book then gives me two options - to cast a Strength spell (I have none left), or to try to break down the door. I don't want to do either, fearing that my attempt to break down the door will leave me transformed into a reddish smear on the wood, but I'm not given any other options to take, I need to try to break the door down. Amazingly, it breaks. Rawr, hulk smash.

I step into the room. It is completely barren except for a table. Floating above the table is a sleeping leprechaun. Oh great, it's going to be one of THOSE type of rooms. The moment I step in, I hear a catapult launching something at me, and I have to spend one of my remaining Shield spells in order to avoid being hit by the trap. Upon closer inspection, the object launched at me was not an arrow or a vial of acid or anything, but a simple tomato. I've wasted a Shield spell on avoiding being pelted with a tomato. I get the feeling that the book is now trying to actively make fun of me.

The Leprechaun now wakes up, introduces himself as O'Seamus, and offers to shake my hand. I'm given two options - I can either shake his hand, or chop his head off. I'm not given a logical third option, which would be to run away from the scary little bastard. So, hoping he won't kill me outright with his evil Irish magics, I shake his hand. Mercifully, he only zaps me with Skill-draining lightning, glues my hand to a doll, and tells me a riddle. Did I ever tell you that I hate leprechauns, pixies and sprites?

I don't even bother trying to solve his riddle, because even if I did, I don't trust that the little bastard wouldn't give me the wrong answer anyway just to torment me. There are several doors out of the room, and I pick the one with a bronze handle. As I step through it, I am blinded by a huge flash of light and some snarling monster attacks me. Having already cast my Strength spell, there's nothing I can do while the monster attacks me, clawing at my leg, eventually closing its teeth around my throat... I then wake up, only to realise that the entire monster attack was simply an illusion created by O'Seamus!

The book tells me that I feel the funny side of the joke, and start to laugh. No. No, I do not. I do not see the funny side to the joke, and any laughter is simply a side-effect of my urge to crush the leprechaun's head beneath my boot. Nevertheless, for being 'such a good sport', he gives me a magic sword and a silver mirror. I leave, through the same door I intended to leave through, and if I ever see O'Seamus again I swear I'll chop his nuts off.

The path leads down into the bowels of the citadel, into the caves beneath it. At the bank of an underground river (y'know, if that pit from earlier HAD been a latrine, it could have emptied downstream of here, making it all a bit more sensible) I see something quite curious. An old woman is washing clothes by the bank of the river, and my ESP tells me that she is the ghost of a woman. It seems that, in life, she was asked by Balthus Dire to finish his laundry, but she was late in doing so. As punishment, he burned her and her children to death, and cursed her spirit to forever wash clothes in a river under his citadel....

Y'know, a few weeks ago, the woman at my local laundrette wouldn't refund me when the conditioner dispenser ate my money. I imagine that if Balthus Dire was in my place, he'd have eradicated the entire city with lava beasts or something. I mean, seriously, over-reacting much? "You have wronged me for the last time, washer woman!"

Anyway, I try to sneak past this vengeful spirit, but she is filled with rage and lashes out, animating the clothing that she is washing. The clothes whip and snap at me, like jocks do to geeks in school gym class. To appease her, I give the spirit the silver mirror. I can't imagine why she wants a silver mirror, but she seems content enough to leave me alone.

I press on through the caves, and eventually come to a door. Slipping through, I see a large stone table, and three treasure chests piled in the corner. The room also contains a large stone golem. Yeesh. I wanted what was in those chests. I wanted them badly. I don't know what it was, but I had the strongest suspicion that it'd be very important. That'd be why they were guarded by a stone golem.

And so in order to get those chests, I had to fight the golem. I charged up to full stamina with my spell, and drew my sword. During the fight, both myself and the golem traded blows pretty much equally. As the last round of combat came up, both myself and the golem were on 2 stamina points. That's about as close as it can ever come. Sadly, the golem rolled highest, and swatted me down like a bug. Thus ended my adventures in the Citadel of Chaos. And want to know the funny bit? I didn't use one levitation spell.

Citadel is a pretty fun book, the environment is a huge step up from Firetop Mountain. It's still very simplistic, but not in a dumbed-down way, because the implementation of magic spells adds a whole new level to the book. It works very nicely, and gives an additional challenge as you try to determine what will be the most useful to stock up on.

(If you've enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Justin MacCormack's two bestselling collections of horror stories - "Return to 'Return to Oz'", "Cthulhu Doesn't Dance" and the young adult coming-of-age comedy "Diary of a gay teenage zombie". His newest novel, book one of "Twilight of the Faerie", is available now)

1 comment:

  1. That post was hilarious. I really enjoyed reading it. Citadel wasn't my favourite book though. I'm glad I'm not the only person who noticed that this was a pre-emptive assassination.