2. The Citadel of Chaos
Author: Steve Jackson (UK)
Illustrators: Emmanuel (first British cover), Ian Miller (second British cover), Richard Corben (American cover), Kevin Jenkins (British reissue cover), Russ Nicholson (interior)
First Published: 1983 (original British edition), November, 1983 (American edition)
Reissued: May, 2002 (still as book #2)
ISBN: 0-14-031603-5 (original British edition), 0-440-91280-6 (American edition), 1-84046-389-9 (reissued British edition)
Length: 400 sections
Number of Endings: 19 instant failures, 1 victory, plus failure by
inadequate inventory, insufficient spells or loss of Stamina points.
Plot Summary: You are a wizard-in-training sent to infiltrate the
citadel of Balthus Dire, an evil demi-sorcerer. Your mission is to prevent
him from unleashing an army upon the innocent Vale of Willow by assassinating
him in his lair.
Translations: Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese (Brazil), Portuguese (Portugal), Spanish, Swedish
The first thing that struck me about this book was its
magic system, which isn't nearly as interesting as Steve Jackson's later work
on Sorcery but which starts the adventure off on
an interesting note by giving the reader a list of talents to pick from,
Lone Wolf style. The next thing I noticed was the fact that the
back-story seems very D&D-inspired, though this observation is
based mainly on the conspicuous use of the phrases "Lawful Good"
Upon getting into the actual gameplay, I'd have to say that it's a more solid
design than Warlock of Firetop Mountain, but it's somehow a bit less
engaging. This may be partially due to the fact that I don't have as many
nostalgic memories of this book than of the previous volume, but I'd say that
the sometimes rushed-looking artwork and Steve Jackson's less-than-thrilling
prose didn't help either. Jackson's talents definitely lie more with game
design than with actual writing -- his text just seems flat most of the time,
and his tendency towards padding out sections by mentioning passageways that
you can't follow is simply annoying. I also found that some of his
encounters (like the whirlwind-woman) feel utterly pointless and silly. He
does deserve credit for the occasional amusing detail, though, and it was
nice to know that female goblins do exist (see section 339).
Despite my complaints, there are a number of very nice features to the book.
The challenge level seems about right -- you have to play quite a few times
to win, but each time you play, you learn new and helpful things which can be
applied to the next trip. It's also true that you can roll extremely awful
ability scores yet still emerge victorious. Probably the highlight of the
whole book is the final confrontation with Balthus Dire, which gives you a
lot of options and keeps the tension high throughout. The fact that victory
leads you to a potentially-unsatisfying ending is my only complaint about the
whole end sequence, and the open-ended final paragraph isn't really all that
terrible. Actually, I wish I'd read this book more thoroughly before writing
my first Kobolds Ate My Baby! solo adventure, as
the encounter with Tabriz in my book could have been enhanced by including a
tribute to this scene. Oh well.
Errata: If you leave the library (18) to approach the dining
area (31), it says you come from the Game Room. This is a bit jarring, but
it doesn't seem to actually harm the flow of the adventure.