FF21: Trial of Champions

Robert Clive
Per Jorner
Sean R. Rook
Laurence Sinclair
Jason Smith
John Stock


[Robert Clive]

I think some of the previous comments on the Trial of Champions was a bit too harsh!

Okay, we all know that it's another stab at the Deathtrap Dungeon formula and that sequels are never quite as good as the original. However, I think Livingstone did a good job here. The book is good in itself and can hold its ground with any other FF book. The writing is good, covering new ground with the trial you have to endure to be selected for Deathtrap Dungeon in the first place. The internal pictures are cool.

Yes, it's a copy of a previous idea, but it's still good in execution anyway. Overall, a solid FF gamebook, well worth a read...



[Per Jorner]

Baron Sukumvit is back in business, and now boasts that his dungeon is "lethal beyond comprehension". Well, since his Trialmasters obviously have the power to arbitrarily kill off the contestants, why doesn't he instruct them to do just that? Not lethal enough?

Logic aside... ToC is more or less what you'd expect from a sequel to the popular and excellent Deathtrap Dungeon. Another maze, tougher monsters, more items to collect. I assume that at the time it came out, Trial of Champions was the most difficult FF book yet. Let me count the reasons why:

Firstly, there is the shopping list. You need to collect a large number of a certain kind of item, as well as information on how to use them (numerical references). You also need several more items to get past various critical stages of the game. Of course, as long as you follow the correct path it doesn't matter much if you pick up and use five items or fifteen, but one wrong move and you will eventually find yourself trapped or incinerated or blasted (unless you are killed in some other way first, of course).

Secondly, there are the battles. You will have to fight numerous Skill 10-11 monsters or the equivalent thereof, some of which have special abilities like inflicting on average one extra point of damage each round. If you have a starting Skill less than 11 you simply will not make it; I sincerely doubt you can make it with 11. When I replayed the book with a 12/22/11 character, taking the correct path, I had to cheat and give myself two full Stamina restores to make it through. Did I mention that unlike Deathtrap Dungeon you get no Provisions nor any potion?

Thirdly, there are the various other die rolls. Instead of Testing your Luck you may have to roll a die, and on the roll of 5-6, lose 1 Skill point, or lose your head, or something. (Of course you'll have to Test your Luck as well along the way.) In one place you have to roll _three_ dice and compare to your Skill score; simple mathematics will tell you that even a Skill 11-12 character will often fail, whereupon you lose 4 Stamina, must fight the equivalent of a Skill 12 monster, and then lose 1 Skill. Not really what I would call fair.

Fourthly, there are the instant deaths. The book naturally boasts more than its fair share of these, brought about by the failure to collect items, by doing something foolish, by taking a wrong turn, or by being too curious. One of the latter variety in particular is about as unprovoked and unfair as they get. Suffice to say that at least 95% of all players will die when they reach a certain late stage of the true path, even if they've done everything correctly up until then; I don't think I'm the only one to have used the secret "back one move" feature at this point! The paragraph itself is cool, sure, but replaying the whole book trying to do exactly the same things as last time (and quite possibly dying in the attempt) is not.

So yes, the new Trial of Champions is challenging, but that doesn't necessarily equal inspiring. Where it fails to live up to the premise is in conjuring up an atmosphere and making you feel like you're "there". In DD, you got the impression the dungeon around you was dangerous. In ToC, you may feel more like it's the book itself that's looking for any excuse to say "Game over!" and make you start over again, so that it can boast of being the ultimate challenge. Admittedly this overall impression may have its roots in the art as much as anything else, as it simply makes the dungeon seem too tidy and artificial as opposed to the damp and dirty tunnels of Iain McCaig's. At least for me, gamebook art influences the entire reading experience by lending shape to things that happen outside the pictures as well.

Other weak points include a kind of gladiator sequence at the start of the book which quickly grows tedious (though you almost get to reset your stats when it's over, so making a "save game" at the start of the dungeon would be an acceptable form of cheating in my opinion. Ian may have intended this as a mechanism to weed out low-Skill characters that wouldn't stand a chance in the maze, but believe me, this will sort itself out), co-contestants that leave even less of a trail than those in DD and who seem loath to touch any of the items necessary to win (plus the fate of the elf was much too similar to the one in the first book), and no kind of memorable end boss (although there are a few nice beasties such as the Bone Devil and the Liche Queen... did you know I like undead?).

Although it's not the equal of Deathtrap Dungeon in any way except for difficulty, Trial of Champions still works as a tough nut for diehard maze-loving FF readers. Don't make a map or any notes, and don't cheat in any way, and then see if you can finish the book in less than, say, fifty attempts. Or maybe fifteen if you only give yourself Skill 12 characters...

Rating: 5/10


[Sean R. Rook]


This is a bit of a sequel to the popular Fighting Fantasy book Deathtrap Dungeon. Basically the Baron of Fang has decided to rebuild his challenging dungeon after the hero of the last book defeated it. A relative of the Baron has decided to send his own champion-he kidnaps you and many other people in order to insure that he has someone that can survive the challenge.

The best part of this book is the beginning where all of his slaves are put through survival tests meant to kill any unworthy candidates. The final survivor (hopefully you) is rewarded with a chance to survive the deathrap dungeon. This is basically the best part of the book (unless you haven't read some of the better Fighting Fantasy books and don't have anything to compare it to).

Overall this book is average-it's obvious that it tries to recapture the popularity of Deathtrap Dungeon but doesn't quite manage it. To give you an idea, I'd say out of the 20 or so FF books I've read I'd place Trial of Champions around number 10 (Deathtrap Dungeon would be number 2).


[Laurence Sinclair]

Held against your will, you are forced to participate in a contest where the prize is entry into perhaps the most feared place on Titan - the rebuilt Deathtrap Dungeon. With an increased lethality for a new generation, the Trial of Champions is once more open for business.

The first FF sequel, and in answer to the first question on everyone's lips, of course it can't live up to the original. But then, few books could. Trial of Champions focuses too much on the accumulation of talismans and trinkets, making it more difficult, but this is only right, as it is a new improved version of the original.

The arena battles that open the book are a change of pace, and lend more of a cinematic feel to the proceedings. As well as surviving the dungeon, you have a desire for revenge against the man who put you there, a drive, an ambition. Personal grudges always add a nice twist.

It is a competent enough adventure, but doesn't do enough to tie itself to the original. This time around, your fellow competitors are fewer in number, and less exciting when encountered, mainly being purely there as tough combat opponents (I.E. they have a high SKILL). The traps and creatures are all new, and I feel that this was a wasted opportunity to revisit a few old favourites. In particular, I would have liked to see the Bloodbeast crop up in new surroundings, as it was just too good a monster to waste on a single adventure.

Were it not for the fact that it is a sequel, there isn't much that makes this book stand out from other Livingstone adventures. The monotonous final few paragraphs, most of which will contain either a high SKILL opponent or the words 'Do you have...'. are a very good idea, but are not fully taken advantage of.

Rating: 6 out of 10


[Jason Smith]

Written by Ian Livingstone and released in 1986, Fighting Fantasy number 21, Trial of Champions, was the long-awaited sequel to Fighting Fantasy number 6, Deathtrap Dungeon! It takes place after the notorious Deathtrap Dungeon was conquered by an adventurer, although you don't play that same adventurer in this gamebook.

Deathtrap Dungeon's master, Baron Sukumvit, in an attempt to restore his damaged reputation, went to great lengths in redesigning and improving his lethal labyrinth to no end. After populating his killer maze with a plethora of traps, puzzles and bad ass monsters, the new challenge went out to adventurers all over Allansia. Are anyone's trousers big enough to mess with Sukumvit's new and improved Deathtrap Dungeon?

This is where the story takes a twist! Baron Sukumvit's younger brother, Lord Carnuss, who despised his older brother, was sulking on his island fortress, when he comes up with a scheme to humiliate his sibling in the worst possible way. He decided to buy a slave and enter him into the Trial of Champions, as his own personal warrior. He hoped to conquer Deathtrap Dungeon and beat his bother at his own game, forcing Sukumvit to eat a big slice of humble pie! Well, that's if Carnuss' lucky volunteer survives!

And this, of course, is where you come in. Enslaved, whisked off to Blood Island and sold to the evil Lord Carnuss, you're forced to take part in his brutal gladiatorial games. Under a scorching sun and in an arena like the Roman Colosseum, you and dozens of sweaty slaves battle it out. The games go on day after day, against each other and in single tests of skill and strength, to find out who is the meanest mother of all.

If you survive all this, it's off to Fang, to take part in this year's Deathtrap Dungeon contest. To survive you have to avoid a large assortment of tricks, traps and monsters, some with seriously BAD attitude problems (Hmmm, I guess I'd be pretty angry at being imprisoned in Deathtrap Dungeon too)! To add to this you have to collect a large amount of artefacts, if you expect to get your ass through this maze in one piece. Failure to do this will usually result in a gruesome death...

The first time I read this gamebook, I died as a slave in Lord Carnuss' gladiatorial arena... Doh! But I still went back for more! The internal illustrations, by Brian Williams, were good, although not quite as cool as Iain McCaig's artwork. I also thought that it was planned and written well by Ian Livingstone. It's also stocked full of first-rate traps and puzzles, much like it's predecessor; Fighting Fantasy number 6, Deathtrap Dungeon.

When I first saw this gamebook, I was excited about tackling the dangers and battling the evil denizens of Deathtrap Dungeon again. At first I was unsure whether any sequel could live up to the standards of the original, but I wasn't disappointed! I would say that this gamebook is not as good as Deathtrap Dungeon, but it certainly comes second place! It is, in my humble opinion, a worthy sequel to the original.

I have noticed that some gamebooks tend to be influenced by films. There are obvious comparisons between Fighting Fantasy number 4, Starship Traveller and the original Star Trek series. Also, Fighting Fantasy number 13, Freeway Fighter and the film Mad Max springs to mind. Fighting Fantasy number 21, Trial of Champions, is no exception either. I thought that there were parts reminiscent of the film Spartacus. But that doesn't spoil the gamebook at all.

Overall, a good gamebook with no real bad points. Well worth reading, if you can find a copy!

Rating: 8.0/10


[John Stock]

Ian Livingstone sure churned out some classic FF, and Trial of Champions is no exception. Whereas the prequel, Deathtrap Dungeon was a very solid FF, Trial simply knocks your socks off. And your trousers for that matter.

This time, instead of diving headlong into Sukumvit's dungeon voluntarity, you are captured by his evil brother, Lord Carnuss, and made to battle it out in his gladiatorial arena, Spartacus-style. The winner gets the questionable honour of going into Deathtrap Dungeon on Lord Carnuss' behalf. And when you get out the other side of DTD, you still have to beat Carnuss in combat. Not an attractive proposition.

The writing is brilliant. And the illustrations aren't too bad either. Failing a test in Carnuss' arena is rewarded with a brief and "just another grave to dig" mentality execution. The dungeon encounters reminisce of the original DTD. And some of the traps are so subtle you don't notice them till it's too late - viz: Ropecutter Trap.

In the gripe department, I've very little. The only real gripe is the, in my opinion, wrong choice of illustrator. Brian Williams is good, but I would have chose Russ Nicolson or Martin McKenna instead. Other than that, this book is almost flawless.

MY RATING - 9.1/10