Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Citadel of Chaos: Concluding Thoughts



While The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is a seminal classic of the genre, it is undoubtedly a flawed one.  The Citadel of Chaos takes everything that worked about its predecessor and fixes most of those flaws.  The result is one of my all-time favourite gamebooks.

The basic plot is the same as in Warlock: you have to invade a wizard's stronghold and kill him.  But where the first book's adventurer had no reason to do so beyond greed, the hero of The Citadel of Chaos is trying to save his homeland from invasion.  It's a cliched set-up, but it's also a stronger one.

Firetop Mountain often felt like a series of disjointed rooms and monsters, none of which seemed to interact with each other.  The setting of the Black Tower is a much better design than Firetop Mountain.  While it shares the same structure of discrete encounters that bear little connection, everything in the citadel feels like part of a whole.  The castle setting feels much more alive.

Even the battle at the end of the book is better, and the confrontation with the Warlock was by no means done poorly.  The duel with Balthus Dire is masterful, though, with many paths to victory or defeat.  It may be my favourite gamebook battle of all time.  Dire has personality, and he's challenging without being impossible.  There are so many fun ways to try and end his life (and a lot of fun ways he can end yours).

If the book has one flaw it's that it can feel a little short.  It has the same number of entries as Warlock, and is similarly terse in writing style, but there are fewer encounters overall because of the increased flexibility offered by the spell system.  The book feels shorter because every encounter has options galore, and I find this much preferable to the books where you are faced with unavoidable fight after unavoidable fight.

Russ Nicholson once again turns in some stellar work.  He's freed here from the limits of vanilla D&D-style fantasy, and gets to inject a healthy dose of off-beat weirdness.  The Wheelies are probably the pinnacle of this, one of the greatest and most nonsensical fantasy monsters ever.

I really do love this book.  Steve Jackson delivered a stone-cold classic on his first solo outing.

THE SCORE

Much the same as The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, I must confess that I am very familiar with this book.  I don't know it as well as the former book, but I'm still able to find the path to victory with little difficulty.  For me this was a memory test, pure and simple, as even a character with low stats can make it through without too much difficulty.  The place where I almost came unstuck was the three doors in the dining hall.  I couldn't remember which one led into Lucretia Dire's bedroom, and had to take a guess.  I got lucky there; facing the Hydra without the golden fleece is unadvised.

Also: I am changing the rules slightly.  Previously, I had awarded myself a single bonus point for completing a book on my first attempt.  Now, I am allowing myself to roll 1d6 and use the result as my bonus.  Trust me, I'm going to need this boost: I already know how many tries it took me to finish Deathtrap Dungeon.  I am altering the deal, Steve and Ian; pray I don't alter it any further.

I started the book with a Skill of 10, which grants me 3 points.  As I completed this book on my first attempt, I also get by bonus die, on which I have rolled a 3.  Adding to my previous total, the scores are now:


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