FF2: The Citadel of Chaos

Jane Aland (spoiler - puzzle)
P.R. Bradley
Jonathan Hughson
Andy Jones
Per Jorner
Demian Katz
Frank La Terra
Laurence Sinclair
Jason Smith
Bryan Spargo
John Stock
William Vanderwhelm


[Jane Aland]


Following the phenomenal success of the first Fighting Fantasy gamebook The Warlock of Firetop Mountain a sequel was inevitable, with this time Steve Jackson producing The Citadel of Chaos alone. Story-wise this is a disappointingly unimaginative retread of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain - once again as the hero you have to venture into the lair of a mighty sorcerer, besting monsters and traps and collecting artefacts along the way. However, looking back at the gamebooks produced, while Ian Livingstone always seemed content to churn out a small industry of vivid but standard Fighting Fantasy adventures Steve Jackson was always trying out new innovations to the format. As such, while the story is familiar here, Jackson adds some new ideas to the mix, the most important being the inclusion of a magic system, which works surprisingly well.

In The Warlock of Firetop Mountain it was quite common to win your way through to the end of the book, only to be stumped by not having found the correct keys for the Warlocks treasure chest, but The Citadel of Chaos is a much less forgiving book, with plenty of sudden death moments: if you don't find a certain item on your travels you'll never get past Balthus Dire's wife; and if you don't defeat her you'll never get the right artefact to destroy the Hydra - worst of all are the dreaded Ganjee's, which must have been responsible for defeating me on a dozen occasions. Even once you get past this lot you'll still be stumped unless you have also discovered both the combination lock for Balthus Dire's door and the method to defeat him.

Once you find the correct path through the citadel this adventure is surprisingly easy and can be completed by the weediest character providing they have the right spells (this is not a book you can win through on hack and slash combat), but finding that right route is a nightmare. As a child this book was one of only a couple of the Fighting Fantasy's I could never complete without cheating, and as a nostalgic 30-year old it still took me about 3 dozen attempts and copious amounts of map drawing to discover it. Very tough, but fun.


[P.R. Bradley]


The Citadel Of Chaos...

It conjures up distant memories of a wasted childhood rolling dice in an attempt to reach the elusive paragraph 400.

The Citadel is for me the better of the three lauch books. The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain for those who don't know was co written by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson. Each writing the book for one side of the river deep within the mountain. Sadly it showed and I always fely WOFTM was disjointed.

This on the other hand is Steve Jackson through and through and probably his best single book work. The multiple routes through the book give a real sense of exploration and adventure. Balthus Dire is your enemy but reaching him is another matter entirely. All manner of creatures inhabit the Citadel and as with all the FF books there is one golden path to follow.

My main gripe with this book is that it really is too easy. I completed it at the second attempt.

I don't want to put people off however and if you are considering buying a FF adventure book then Citadel Of Chaos is not a bad buy. It never approaches the richness of Deathtrap Dungeon but is streets ahead of Warlock.

A little on the repackaging. Its nice but I doubt that it equates to a five pound price tag. Wizard books would do well to remember that the originals are ever popular and are changing hands for just 2 pounds each. Putting dice at the bottom of the page and updating the cover is little justification for 3 extra pounds. Excluding these minor changes the books are identical to their early 80's form.

Very lazy boys...


[Jonathan Hughson]

Citadel of Chaos is one of the first FFs I ever read and remains one of my favourites to this day. As the star pupil of the Grand Wizard of Yore you must infiltrate the Black Tower, Balthus Dire's citadel, and put an end to his plans to conquer the Vale of Willow.

Citadel of Chaos has lots going for it. Steve's writing is as brilliant as ever, and Russ Nicholson's illustrations are pretty good too. I have one of the original editions with the cover by the mysterious Emmanuel (the red one with the dog thing on the front). This cover is god-awful and was wisely replaced by Puffin in later printings (the same thing happened with Warlock of Firetop Mountain) with the whirlwind woman one.

There are some great ideas in here. The introduction of magic meant that problems could have multiple solutions that didn't involve fighting. Moving the action out of the traditional role-playing dungeon environment was another good move. The monsters in Citadel of Chaos are a bit more imaginative that in Warlock of Firetop Mountain; the Ganjees are amongst the coolest of FFs many monsters and creatures like Calacorms and Wheelies definitely make a change from Orcs.

Balthus Dire is a superb villain, and the confrontation with him at the end is well written, especially compared to the final fight in Warlock of Firetop Mountain. In Warlock of Firetop Mountain it was perfectly possible to simply attack and kill him, whereas in Citadel of Chaos a wrong choice at the end generally means that Dire has won. I get the feeling that Steve had recently seen Star Wars when he wrote this bit; you are given the option to join him (Daarth Vader style) and the Pocket Myriad, which you can use against Dire, is clearly a light sabre! Special mention must go to the immortal line "Impudent Peasant!" that Dire says to you. This cements Dire's position as one of FF's greatest villains.

Through Citadel of Chaos Steve set the standard for later FFs through his experimentation with the FF format. Steve introduced a new attribute for the player i.e. Magic, which opened up the way for more complex adventures. Just look at the later FFs; nearly all involve some kind of new attribute, from Time to Poison. The way you pick spells at the beginning was later developed into the idea of special skills, which again are common in the later books. This shows the dramatic effect that this book had on the series.

Steve also added some much needed realism (well, more than your usual fantasy adventure anyway) by having a more believable plot and villain. In Citadel of Chaos you have a reason for trying to kill Dire - he is going to invade your homeland. In Warlock of Firetop Mountain the only reason for attempting such a dangerous quest is to steal his treasure (and you're supposed to be the hero of the story!!).

Citadel of Chaos does have its faults. Firstly it is very easy, especially with a high SKILL score. The only difficult parts of the book are finding the password to Dire's room (this is simply trial and error) and also the final confrontation with Dire. On the subject of the fight with Dire I fin it a bit pointless that Dire can be killed by sunlight. He isn't a vampire; he's just an evil sorcerer. How does he expect to invade the Vale of Willow? Do all of his fighting at night?

Another gripe I have with this book is the section where you have to get the password to gain access to the tower itself. When you approach the guard you are given a choice of 3 passwords. This means that you have a one in three chance of picking the correct password despite the fact you have no idea what it is - something I find very unrealistic as in real life you would never be able to just a guess a password like that. However, this fault can be put down to the fact that the FF system was still in it's infancy; a later FF would have used the "convert the password to numbers and add them up" method to stop this.

Citadel of Chaos is definitely a great FF that laid the foundations for the rest of the series, possibly more so than Warlock of Firetop Mountain ever did. By pushing what could be done with the FF gamebook system Steve showed that more complex adventures were possible.

Rating: 9/10


[Andy Jones]

I prefer this to 'Warlock' because the citadel seems a lot more densely populated than Firetop Mountain and by more interesting and varied creatures too. While Zagor was content with Orcs and Zombies, Balthus went for fantastic things like Wheelies, Garks and Ganjees. 'Citadel' also seems to me to be so much more dark and menacingly atmospheric than its predecessor, the main reason (I think) being a better standard of illustrations. The real key, though, is the location - with a citadel, you can have a great many and varied types of location whereas inside a mountain, all you're going to get is cavern after cavern... The introduction of magic was a big plus and Dire is a great villain (in a Yul Brynner stylee).



[Per Jorner]

In my younger days I didn't much like this one compared to Warlock of Firetop Mountain. It was too non-linear, too non-heroic, too weird and too oppressive. Instead of making your character seem like a confident and competent warrior/wizard, it made you feel like you were at the mercy of just about every creature in the castle. Since then I've come to find a better appreciation of its approach, its slyness, its array of bizarre creatures and the way you interact with them.

This book really is creepy. It truly makes you feel like you're in hostile territory, out of your depth. Everyone you meet and everything you find can turn out to be something other than it appears, helpful or (most often) harmful. You can never be too sure that you just did something useful. And then just when you think you've made some progress, the Ganjees appear and kill you off. Might as well get used to that, by the way. Nothing like a visit to the good ol' Ganjees to make you feel pitiful and scared.

Instead of asking you to produce your numbered keys at the end, this book puts you through a series of tough ordeals for which you must be well prepared. This will sometimes leave you at a loss as to what you must actually do to get through; for instance, you may be happy that you found a way to pass obstacle A, not suspecting that down another path lie the means to pass obstacle A _and_ obstacle B which is currently frustrating you. And once you've reached the final room, things are by no means all wrapped up for you.

As for the magic system, what I like about it is that you really feel like something of a spellcaster; there are no spell items (Forest of Doom, Scorpion Swamp) or Stamina loss (Temple of Terror). You also get enough spells that you cannot really complain, and since you naturally won't win the first time you'll be able to adjust your toolkit gradually. I'm a little less enthusiastic about the way the book often sets you up to fail (sometimes spectacularly) when you choose to cast a spell. In addition to making your character look stupid, it feels unnecessarily vindictive on the book's part. On the other hand, that's basically what this book does: keep you on your toes.

This may all sound pretty good, so what's the downside? For one thing, the book can seem a little short, given that you'll not explore all the details of each encounter. It's possible to traverse the lower level of the castle very quickly, passing only a couple of rooms, or you can almost double back to cover a much bigger area. I already mentioned it won't always be obvious what you missed, assuming you missed it. The one numerical reference you need eluded me forever. And the final battle is in my opinion a bit unfair. It won't be at all apparent which options (like casting spells) are viewed favourably by the book and which are not; you can find yourself in an instant death paragraph not realizing which one of your actions the book felt should be punished. If you like to be in control, you'll find several opportunitites for frustration throughout the book.

A long time ago I'd definitely have given this book a lower rating that Warlock of Firetop Mountain and several other books; however, even as I write this review its qualities seem to emerge and clarify. It's different, spooky, wicked and good. Just not for the beginner, I think.

Rating: 8/10


[Demian Katz]

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.

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" and "Chaotic."

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.


[Frank La Terra]

A vast improvement in all ways on The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, CoC is a great book that is as fun today as it was back when Fighting Fantasy first started. What CoC has that WoFM somewhat lacks is imagination - rather than rely on the same old stuff found in the Dungeons & Dragons monster manuals, Steve Jackson has populated the citadel with all sorts of uniquely weird and wonderful monsters. Encounters are also a lot less straightforward - whereas WoFM's encounters tended to be pretty blunt with the correct choice being obvious ("There is a chest in the room, will you open it or leave?"), here things are a lot more grey and open, forcing you to think more. The citadel also feels a lot more 'lived in' than Firetop Mountain ever did, with its master bedrooms, kitchens, wine cellars - heck it even had a kids' playroom!
In the book you get to play a wizard with spells, and the magic system is rather well done. Despite the addition of magic though, one interesting thing about CoC is the feeling of being 'out of your depth' that most other game books lack. It isn't so much that the book is hard (while not 'easy', the book can actually be solved with the minimum of stats) but rather the way the book is written. You definitely aren't the ultra-confident do anything adventurer in this one!
And finally, the fight at the end with Balthus Dire still stands as one of the best 'end boss fights' in the series.
Overall, arguably the best constructed game with a cool story, definitely a winner.
Gameplay: 5
Story: 3.5



Ah, the Citadel of Chaos! God, this one brings back some happy memories as a twelve year-old school kid hooked on these game books. Sniff, sniff, sniff!

I remember skulking around the darkened courtyard at night followed by the dark, atmospheric, stonewalled passages of the Citadel itself. Not to mention Dire's foul cronies; the Witches in their kitchen, the mischievous Leprechaun and that undead Washerwoman and the like. This was all enthralling stuff first time around. Then it's up the Black Tower to assault Balthus Dire's last stronghold.

I've always had a soft place in my heart for this Fighting Fantasy game book. It was certainly one of the earliest books of this series I ever read. The writing is engaging; the mission involves you having to search various different places to find all the different artefacts you need to overcome the Citadel's obstacles to succeed.

I personally liked the end battle between Dire and yourself. I think it's interesting, detailed and gives you a sense of achievement that destroying some other villains doesn't. After all, what's more satisfying; getting to the villain's lair and having a straight fight, or having a protracted battle using your wits, magic and artefacts you've picked up along the way!

One thing I liked about this game book is that it lives up to the statement that you CAN succeed with moderate Skill, Stamina and Luck scores. Some books pit you against impossibly tough enemies, without any alternative way of defeating them. In Citadel of Chaos, you can kill Dire without fighting him in a sword duel, meaning that you can succeed with brains rather than muscle if you made low initial roles.

A great game book title in the end. It's worth getting you sweaty hands on a copy if you can to pit your wits against the Lord of the Black Tower.



[Laurence Sinclair]

Okay, ignore the less than exemplary cover for a moment (was there really a need to ruin that otherwise excellent painting with a big green blob, Mr Miller?), and get right into the story. Moving on from the original FF, this book develops a lot of the ideas introduced in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. This time, though, you have a purpose. Balthus Dire is planning a conquest of the Vale of Willow, but killing him would put a stop to them. Thus you enter the Black Tower, only this time you can cast spells.

Spells! Yes, magic is one of the big draws of The Citadel of Chaos, as few FF books deal with the subject. And they're not a disappointment. Chosen from a list at the start of the book and cast whenever given the opportunity in the text, they open up a whole new avenue of options. Rather than relying on the collection of items, you start off with the tools you need to succeed! Or at least, you hope you do. As with all good gamebooks, casting some spells at certain times can be more problematic than helpful...

While you may be drooling at the thought of all this magical power at your fingertips, Citadel does suffer from a few drawbacks that mean it never really contends with its predecessor. The one item essential for success is something that you never knew you were looking for - at least in Warlock you knew that you needed the keys. Towards the end the book becomes a bit linear. There are several rooms that must be entered, no choice of direction, leading up to Dire himself. And speaking of Dire, the final conflict is not as good as it could have been. While it is possible to challenge him to a duel and finish him off that way, the alternative method, combat by magic, is too punishing. Choose the wrong spell, and you'll be faced with choices that all lead to death, and instant death at that.

The Citadel of Chaos is the book that really introduced the concept of an instant death to FF. There were a few in Warlock, but they were rarely encountered, whereas here they are a staple of the adventure itself, an unforgiving punishment for stupidity. Comparing this, Steve Jackson's first solo effort, with Ian Livingstone's Forest of Doom will reveal the difference in their writing styles, one choosing innovation and lethality, the other openness and familiarity. Which is better is a matter of personal choice.

Citadel of Chaos is not a bad book, though. It may have a large number of gruesome deaths, but not as many as some of the later entries in the series, and it's certainly more open and forgiving than some of its descendants. As I said before, the magic system is a big draw, and it's worth owning for that alone.

Rating: 7 out of 10


[Jason Smith]

Classic FF; the Citadel of Chaos. The Citadel of Chaos is the second book in the successful Fighting Fantasy gamebook series, written by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. In this medieval-style gamebook, you play the part of a wizard/warrior hero, sent to prevent an invasion, by slaying a Dark Sorcerer Warlord called 'Balthus Dire'. In the adventure, you have to journey to Dire's citadel, explore the maze-like fortress, overcoming traps, hostile fantasy creatures and collecting certain artifacts; which you must find to complete you quest. If you manage to avoid being imprisoned, killed or getting lost, you can face Balthus Dire in a fight to the death (using your weapon or/and magic). This FF book is not the best one ever written but, without doubt, is an absolute FF classic. The second book in the series (the first one written by Steve on his own), Citadel of Chaos has all the fresh, enthusiasm of a first work. The traps, monsters and situations are original and exciting. A must for all FF readers. The ending is especially satisfying, if you get that far.........

Rating: 8.0/10


[Bryan Spargo]

Of all the writers who have written Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, series co-creator Steve Jackson has primarily been the one to attempt something new with each of his books. Sometimes he has succeeded brilliantly, as with "House of Hell" and "Creature of Havoc." Other times he wasn't quite as successful, as with "Starship Traveller" and "Appointment With F.E.A.R." However, each of his books has added a new dimension to the series, and the series as a whole is better because of his work.

With the second Fighting Fantasy book, "The Citadel of Chaos," Jackson, writing his first solo FF book, introduced the use of magic to the series. This was a bold move, as the series was still in its infancy, and especially considering that Jackson was already tinkering with the game rules he had just established in the highly successful "The Warlock of Firetop Mountain." Thankfully, this tinkering only added to the legacy of the series.

While not as powerful as "Warlock," "The Citadel of Chaos" is still a strong read, and is firmly in the upper echelon of the series. The ability to use magic in nearly every encounter allows for quite a bit of variety, and promotes second and third readings of the book. The encounters are definitely weirder than those in "Warlock," giving the book a more exotic feel that is only enhanced by Jackson's fine descriptive writing. And Balthus Dire, the book's main antagonist, presents a difficult challenge to defeat, whether through magic, swordplay, or a combination of the two.

The only real drawback to "Citadel," and what prevents it from being as strong as "Warlock," is that the book can be completed with a weak character. With only 2 sword combat encounters necessary along the correct path, the magic ability could have been installed more effectively to keep the entire adventure as challenging as possible. Also, the correct path to successfully complete the adventure is relatively short, much shorter than I would have preferred.

But these are only minor complaints, as "The Citadel of Chaos" is able to overcome them, and remains a wonderful read to this day. "Citadel" may be flawed, but it is brilliant nonetheless. Highly recommended.

Overall grade: 9 (out of 10)


[John Stock]

Today's FF Review is Citadel of Chaos. This is an absolute cracker. The creation of Steve Jackson alone, it introduces a nifty magic system, a deliciously nasty major villain and several quite fun surprises. I mean, who expects to see a low-tech version of Russian Roulette played in an FF book? Or getting hit by a rotten tomato?

The first thing about this book is the cover. The edition of the book I have boasts a brilliant cover involving this castle on top of a rock with hordes of beasts coming out. In the foreground is a black lion in mid-roar. The internal illustrations are pretty tasty too, being the handiwork of Russ Nicolson, my favourite illustrator.

But the best bit of this one is the villain. Balthus Dire is just so down-to-earth. He struts around like he owns the place (well, actually he does own the place) and comes up with some excellent lines. And his slimyness is second to none. If you accept his offer of alliance with him, "he truly is your master now" says the text.

So to summarize - Find it, buy it, play it, beat it, come back to it. And in the words of the immortal Balthus Dire:

"Impudent peasant!"

MY RATING - 8.8/10


[William Vanderwhelm]


Citadel of Chaos is the second in the wonderful series that is Fighting Fantasy. Here, your job as the star pupil of a powerful wizard, is to slay a malevolent leader that is amassing an army of evil. The introduction of magic into the series is excellent, making many encounters decided by finesse rather than by "boring" hand to hand combat. Personally, I like FF gamebooks that have something in addition to Skill, Stamina and Luck. Typical of many gamebooks, the adventure climaxes in a battle with a powerful foe. However, the book contains many interesting encounters leading up to the final foe that makes it stand out from an ordinary "dungeon romp". All in all, this book is worthy of any Fighting Fantasy collection.