FF6: Deathtrap Dungeon

Ken Beuden
Lafe Travis Fredbjornson (edited to remove major spoilers)
Per Jorner
Demian Katz
Jared Milne
Phil Sadler
Laurence Sinclair
Jason Smith
Bryan Spargo
John Stock
Aaron Thorne


[Ken Beuden]

The title catches your eye immediately and if you follow your instincts and pick this book from the shelf you won't be disappointed. Written in 1984 by Ian Livingstone, this was the sixth book in the Fighting Fantasy series and the first, in my opinion, to live up to the standard of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. The adventure is set in northern Allansia. Baron Sukumvit, a man whose name itself conjures up the image of depravity, is the ruler of a town called Fang in the province of Chiang Mai.

To enhance the reputation of his town, and therefore increase its fortunes, the Baron has created a contest with the magnificent name of the 'Trial of Champions'. This annual contest takes place within the purpose built labyrinth set in the hill behind the town. Filled with a host of traps, monsters and riddles, all of a deadly nature, it doesn't take an Archmage to work out why it is called Deathtrap Dungeon. The Baron's plan has turned out to be a tremendously successful one. The Dungeon has attracted many adventurers eager for fame and fortune and they have in turn attracted crowds and money. But the Dungeon has also proved true to its name for no one who has entered it has left alive. What a setting! Simple but very, very powerful and alluring. If you do decide to enter the Dungeon five other contestants will join you. The description of these contestants adds to the excellent fabric of this adventure.

As soon as you enter the Dungeon the tone of the book changes to become very ominous, in stark contrast to the carnival atmosphere you had been experiencing just moments before. This is where the adventure really begins and it certainly lives up to the expectations that would have been engendered by the introduction. All the elements are there: monsters to fight; traps to avoid; items to find and riddles to solve. Added to all of this is the chance to encounter your fellow contestants along the way.

The sinister side of this being that only one person may collect the prize! But what makes it so good is the way everything is blended together. The dungeon draws you in with a relatively easy beginning and gets progressively harder from there on in. The book is really well written and will captivate you. Danger awaits you at every turn along the way. As with many Livingstone books the path to glory is very narrow and it is even possible to make it to the final riddle without the requisite items to pass the test. You may scream if that happens but that is one of the great aspects of this book. It is challenging. Even if you have those items your exit is not guaranteed! The theme of being in a labyrinth is carried through in the skill of the writing. As such it is possible to take a different path through the dungeon on subsequent adventures. This enhances the challenge of the book whilst maintaining the interest and the excitement.

If my experience is anything to go by, you won't finish the book first time around (or second, or third, or....) Augmented by the superb quality of Iain McCaig's illustrations this book is the standard against which other FF adventures should be measured. I highly recommend that you attempt 'The Walk'.

Rating: 9 out of 10


[Lafe Travis Fredbjornson]

It's probably my favourite book of the Fighting Fantasy series, one reason being it occurs on May 1st, which also happens to by my birthday.

Deathtrap Dungeon is full of deadly situations, most of them can end your adventure if you choose wrongly. You'll likely be killed dozens of times, so learn from your mistakes and take notes. Taking the wrong branch in a passageway can lead you to death, or miss out on important items. The Bloodbeast room can be arrived at from different places in the dungeon.

The challenge is made more difficult by the numerous tests of Skill, Stamina and Luck you'll be asked to make throughout the adventure. Even if you know the correct path through the Dungeon, you will need good dice rolls to finish. There are many battles to be fought along the way, which will undoubtedly wear down your Stamina. Take advantage of areas where you can restore your Skill, Stamina and Luck scores.

It's interesting that only the correct path has you encountering all your other competitors. You'll learn from the Elven woman that different gemstones are needed to escape from the dungeon. The correct combination of gemstones at the end is not hinted at anywhere, so it is just a matter of guessing. Not all the gemstones in the dungeon are useful.

Rating: 9 out of 10


[Per Jorner]

Viewed as a gambling proposition, Deathtrap Dungeon simply doesn't make any sense. You bet your life, or at the very least your freedom, against 10,000 Gold Pieces and some glory. Now I don't know how people in Allansia usually measure their life's worth in money, but I'd expect that in such a bet you'd want pretty good odds in your favour, and a reasonable certainty that the house wasn't cheating. Well, apparently I'd be wrong. According to the background story, challengers are lining up for a trial that is _advertised_ as being impossible, supposedly as much for the challenge as for the prize. For all they know there could be an instant death paragraph beyond the first bend of the tunnel (why isn't there?). All things considered, does this make the adventurers of Allansia seem like the particularly clever lot you'd always turn to in an emergency?

Having got that off my chest, I'd like to say that Deathtrap Dungeon for me probably more than any other book embodies the spirit of what Fighting Fantasy is all about. Let me list its traits and virtues:

It's got a whooping great name. It's fantasy. It's got a neat concept (the designer dungeon). It's set in a maze (obviously). It chucks you right into the action, without fussing over spell selection, purchases or overland journeys. It's got path selection, so that you get different encounters in different games, but it's also got stretches that you always need to pass, so that the journey in its entirety isn't too short. It's got the concept of the other contestants which you will encounter in one way or another. It's got several memorable monsters including the Mirror Demon, the Pit Fiend and the brilliant Bloodbeast. It's got Ian Livingstone's usual straightforward and prosaic style, which lends itself well to this kind of dungeon crawl. It's got killer art by Iain McCaig (his second and last book - why?). It's got a dramatic climax. It's challenging enough that you'll probably keep at it until you win, and it's got an ending which is almost - I say almost - fair.

In fact, just about the only downside I can think of is that the Skill level of the last three monsters should probably have been dropped one notch for each. As it is, winning with Skill 11 will require some luck; any less and you can probably kiss your ass goodbye. There could also have been a few more references to the exploits of the other contestants, since after all they were ahead of you from the start and must have visited many or most of the rooms and encounters that you would later come across. Oh, and there was that confusion about the shield as well, but I remember deducing that you must have one since there is a place where the game always assumes you have it.

To sum it up, Deathtrap Dungeon is a true classic. If you didn't get it the first time around, get it now. A pity the Bloodbeast didn't make it to the new cover, though; the Skeleton Warrior just seems to duplicate the picture found within the book.

Rating: 9/10


[Demian Katz]

Plot Summary: Every year, the town of Fang celebrates the Trial of Champions, a special event in which adventurers are sent into Baron Sukumvit's deadly, trap-filled dungeon. The one resourceful soul capable of surviving all the way through will win a vast prize. So far, no one has won, but there's a first time for everything, and you're determined to give it a shot....

After a few adventures in open spaces, this book delves back into the dungeon. Interestingly enough, it features the exact same author/illustrator team as the previous volume. In any case, the dungeon presented here is quite a memorable one -- there are few Fighting Fantasy fans who don't have a certain fondness for Baron Sukumvit's unforgettable trap-filled creation. Despite the nostalgia, though, I found this book a rather mixed bag.

There are quite a few good things to be found here. Probably the best thing about the book is the way it shows the series' setting beginning to evolve into a living world. By placing Fang near Port Blacksand, the author gives the reader a first sense of the fact that these books take place in a common land, and by giving frequent signs of fellow-adventurers' activities, the book makes its dungeon seem like a more lively place than, say, Firetop Mountain. Finally, while the explanation of the Trial of Champions is rather hard to swallow, it's also a lot of fun, and one of the better excuses for a maze full of random dangerous stuff that I've come across.

There are problems, though. For one thing, it really feels, from a structural standpoint, an awful lot like a rehash of the first book in the series (though the concluding puzzle, basically a game of Mastermind, is rather more clever than the key-adding of the first volume). This sense of deja vu is not the book's biggest flaw, however. The big problem is, once again, unbelievably excessive difficulty.

I have complained in the past that the stories of most Fighting Fantasy books tend to get lost in all the mapping and note-taking that the player has to do in order to win them. This problem is particularly bad here. In most of the earlier books, whenever I would roll up a Skill 12 character, I would experience a certain amount of breathtaking suspense, since I knew I had a shot at victory, however slim. In this book, I soon realized that there were so many instant death traps that Skill didn't matter, and that I'd have no chance of winning until I knew the dungeon inside and out.

Ultimately, I ended up sending dozens of adventurers to horrible fates just to get a rough idea of what I'd have to do to emerge victorious. I wasn't trying to win, even when I rolled Skill 12 characters; I was just mapping. I knew I stood no chance of victory without loads of foreknowledge. This reduced the book from an adventure to a mechanical exercise, which is a shame. It was also rather displeasing that even after all this work, there was no easy path available -- it's very frustrating when you have mapped every inch of a gamebook and _still_ can't win without a certain amount of dice-fudging.

In the end, I'm not quite sure what to conclude about the book. It's a classic, but it's a rather flawed one (like most of the early entries in this series). It has some good writing and entertaining ideas, but if you play to win, you're likely to be too busy scribbling notes to actually appreciate the tale too much. The more I return to these books, the more I realize that the style of early Fighting Fantasy adventures just isn't to my taste; it will be interesting to see how I feel about the later volumes, though!

Errata: (thanks to Ed Jolley for noting these) In section 242, you fall unconscious to the floor, but if you make a good enough roll to get to 48, you're informed that you avoid falling unconscious to the floor. Hmm. Also an art/text inconsistency: in 164, you follow boot prints, but when you see the person who made them in the illustration by 299, he's barefoot.


[Jared Milne]

I have to say, that after reading this, this is perhaps Ian Livingstone's finest work, even better than "Legend of Zagor" and "Crypt of the Sorcerer", two very fine books. It's nice to not have to deal with a warmongering evil demon or wizard for a change. I'm quite fond of that genre, but it's nice to just adventure for your own benefit.

The first reviewer and the synopsis on this page have already gone into the plot of the book, so I won't bore you with it again. The book starts off fairly easy -- a couple of orcs or a caveman might be your first opponents, and they're easy pickings, but the combats get progressively more fiendish as the book progresses, right down to a SKILL 11 opponent, a SKILL 12 opponent, and another SKILL 11 opponent, before finally ending with a fiendish puzzle to round things out. The end is very satisfying, especially since with the ending puzzle you need both trial and error as well as brains to succeed at it.  You'll lose quite a chunk of STAMINA every time you screw up, and since you'll probably be beat up from the opponents you just fought, you'd better get it right fast.

As for the rest of the dungeon, it is very well thought out. You'll be able to interact with the other five suckers...er, contestants, see the tragic fates of some of them and even fight a couple of them. In typical Livingstone fashion, you need several items to get out alive. Ian is also a master at putting in progressively more difficult combats as you progress. The tricks and traps in the labyrinth are numerous, and it says in the introduction that Sukumvit intended for anyone who wanted to win to have to use their wits as well as weaponskill. Well, Sukumvit should give himself a pat on the back, since he easily succeeded. A great mix of hack 'n' slash combat, plus a very nasty puzzle at the end, makes for excellent reading.

There were a couple of irritating points -- the dice game that the Dwarf Trialmaster puts you through is pretty damned unfair, since it's all up to luck and there's not much you can do if you lose. I took the wrong door partway through when I had a choice, and then got all the way to the end, only to find that I was missing one of the items I needed to get out. Doh.

Still, Ian creates a very entertaining read here, with both helpful items and dangerous traps within.  Even after you find your way through, you can still go through the other ways in the dungeon and see all the other dangerous traps in the maze. You can even try an alternate route through the dungeon, as several different directions will offer themselves to you now and then, just to see what else Ian's devious mind has cooked up.

Rating: 10/10


[Phil Sadler]

The first FF book I ever read and still the best as far as I'm concerned (although other greats such as House of Hell, Temple of Terror and Dead of Night may have something to say about that)! It is also the main influence on my very own book.

The cover of the book really draws you in, it features a truly loathsome creature that looks like it could swallow you whole - the infamous Bloodbeast! A rightfull candidate for one of the all time great covers. The in-book ilustrations are also excelent: witness the screaming Mirror Demon, or the intimidating barbarion Throm, or what about the strange shaft of light featuring smiling and laughing faces?

The premise of the book is satisfactorily different from your usual FF fair in that you are 'merely' to survive a test rather than save the world. This is a far from an ordinary test though, it is an absoloutly deadly one, which no one has yet survived. You want to though, because the reward is a king's ransome - 10000 gold coins! Even here there is a further twist in that you do not enter the place alone, there are several other contestants (and you'll meet them during your quest), but there can only be one winner.

The adventure itself is brilliant and features many memorable encounters (the Giant Scorpion, The Ninja and the Manticore to name a few) and locations (the sign which reads "Leave your weapons", the deadly Trial Master's tests and the 'Run of the Arrow', for instance). Add to all this the high-class writing, agonising traps, brain-busting riddles and awesome treasures and you have an adventure above all others.

I have no hesitation in describing Deathtrap Dungeon as the greatest of all FF books.

Rating: 10 out of 10


[Laurence Sinclair]

This is it. This is the big one. Deathtrap Dungeon is a book that changed the face of FF forever with another outstanding Iain McCaig cover, and Ian Livingstone proving that he is more prolific than Steve Jackson. Inside, the book lived up to its name for once...

No one who entered the Deathtrap Dungeon ever returned, but this hasn't stopped you from trying, for the reward is too great. Participating in a medieval version of The Crystal Maze, it is up to you to beat off your competitors and escape alive, to claim your promised treasure.

This book marks where Livingstone got mean. Make a mistake, and you're dead. While he borrowed this philosophy from Jackson, he totally ignored the numbered item mechanism, and in this book every paragraph is a result of a 'turn to...' message. This makes for a simple, no holds barred killfest, as you are let loose to cut your way through anything that may get in your path.

Of course, there are quieter moments where brains are required rather than brawn, but in this book there are powerful opponents that MUST be fought. The promise of success for weedy heroes rings false in this book; roll SKILL 7 and you're meat. This is FIGHTING fantasy, after all.

This book has influenced so many that came after it, with its original spin on the traditional dungeoneering story. The fact that the dungeon is specifically constructed for the torture and dismemberment of contestants makes the artificial feeling of the place more believable; the monsters and wizards do have a reason to be there now; they were PUT there. The opportunity to kill off your rivals in a totally callous manner is also a winner, although there is a surprising twist halfway through.

A true classic, with none of this namby pamby save the world nonsense - you're just out to look after Number One.

Rating: 9 out of 10


[Jason Smith]

Deathtrap Dungeon, written in 1984 by Ian Livingstone, was the sixth edition to the growing Fighting Fantasy series.This adventure is set, like most of the earlier FF books, in the medieval fantasy land of Allansia. There is a successful town in north Allansia called Fang. It's ruler, a certain Baron Sukumvit, decided to make Fang the centre of a great contest, to be held once each year, called the 'Trail of Champions'.

Now, this Trail of Champions involved the Baron tunneling a deadly labyrinth into the hills behind the town. The labyrinth, named Deathtrap Dungeon (if you didn't already know), was then riddled with fiendish traps and vicious monsters to trick and test any contestants trying their luck. Just before the grand opening, Sukumvit selected ten of his finest troops to enter the dungeon, as a test of it's lethality. Much to the Baron's delight; none of the troops were ever seen again! The call then went out to adventurers all over Allansia.

Many adventurers were eager to test their skills in Deathtrap Dungeon, for the honour of being the first to survive the labyrinth and collect their own weight in gold as a reward. As yet, none have survived to claim the prize...Until now, that is!!

You start as an adventurer, signed up for the Trail of Champions, the eve before the contest starts. The next day, you line up outside Deathtrap Dungeon, ready to start your adventure. Five other contestants enter the dungeon with you. These are: an armoured Knight, a robed Ninja, a female Elf Warrior and two 'Arnold Schwarzenegger look-a-like' Barbarians.

So, the race is on! To succeed in your goal you have to beat the other contestants (by fair or foul means), avoid becoming a victim of the many cunningly lethal traps, find and collect various items, vital if you are to escape alive, find your way through quite a complex maze and hack-'n'-slash your way through loads of Deathtrap Dungeon's inhuman inhabitants (this is my favourite part!!)

For 'true' diehard FF fans; this book is a real roller-coaster ride. The book is original, well written, engaging and (fairly) complex. The book has some nice parts to it: Stumbling onto the remains of past contestants, impaled on spikes, ending up as stew for the Boodbeast, meeting the 'Trial Masters', Poison Ivy and those playful Trogoldytes (no, I won't tell you! You'll have to find out about them for yourself!!) There are some really nice 'adult' traps and ways to die as well; the 'Vice' trap and drinking the acid, which burns a hole in your stomach, are real corkers.

As for bad parts......Well, I couldn't really think of any. This book is a very good edition to the FF series. Not being linear (like a lot of later books) the dungeon can be explored many times differently. The ending is especially challenging and exciting.

Iain McCaig's illustrations are of the usual excellent quality; they really bring Deathtrap Dungeon alive, adding immeasurably to the atmosphere of the book. In fact, without his contribution, the book probably wouldn't of been so well received

So, in my ending summary of number six; Deathtrap Dungeon. I would say that it is an absolute classic; this book is about as good as FF gets!

Rating: 9.0/10


[Bryan Spargo]

After the immensely successful "City of Thieves" brought the Fighting Fantasy series back to basics, series co-creator Ian Livingstone created what is arguably the best gamebook in the FF series, and possibly the best gamebook ever written. "Deathtrap Dungeon," the sixth book in the series, showcases Livingstone at his best in combining all the essential elements of a Fighting Fantasy gamebook and creating a gamebook experience not to be easily forgotten.

"Deathtrap Dungeon" is expertly written and plotted - in fact, the one true way through the dungeon has the player confronting all 5 of his opponents, whether alive or deceased. The encounters crafted by Livingstone are among the most memorable of the FF series. The battle against the ninja, confronting the Bloodbeast, being forced into battle with the barbarian Throm, the trialmaster's challenge against either the Minotaur or the giant scorpion - these are only some of the encounters that will stay with the reader long after the book has been closed.

The adventure is lengthy and presents a difficult challenge for the reader. In typical Livingstone fashion, certain gems must be located during the adventure that will allow the reader to exit the dungeon and claim the prize for successfully conquering the dungeon. Add to all of this the unbelievable artwork of Iain McCaig, and it almost seems unfair that a gamebook could be as perfect as "Deathtrap Dungeon" is.

"Deathtrap Dungeon" remains an incredibly powerful read to this day, and ranks among the best Fighting Fantasy gamebooks ever written. In this reviewer's opinion, "Deathtrap Dungeon" is THE quintessential gamebook.

Overall grade: 10 (out of 10).


[John Stock]

Classic FF, this... It's not often I say that about a book but this deserves it. Written my Ian Livingstone, the almost undisputed master of the gamebook genre (but Jackson and Hand come close) - and this is truly his masterpiece.

The plot it nothing special, nor are there any new rules, but the sheer simplicity but difficulty of the book makes it so good. The premise is that, built by the villainous Baron Sukumvit to make his town look notorious, you have volunteered for "The Walk" - that is, a deadly dungeon with a prize of 10,000 GPs to the person who can make it through alive. Sort of like an old-time Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? except more lethal.

Well, now to the meat-and-potatoes part. The book itself is excellently written and Iain McCaig's illustrations go really well with the book's atmosphere. Two thumbs up there! There are usual devices - puzzles every so often to eliminate another contestant. You can make friends with a fellow competitor, only have to murder them when you next meet a "Trialmaster". This is great.

On the gripes front, I only have one, and that is the ending. The ending is a little unsatisfactory in my opinion. Fifteen lines only constitute a mediocre end paragraph. This is a similar symptom to that displayed in Citadel of Chaos, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain and Forest of Doom. But apart from that, the book rocks. Get a copy of it and play through it. Do that now. Then you'll see how great this one is.

MY RATING - 9.6/10


[Aaron Thorne]


Deathtrap Dungeon is cool. The basic gist is that you (along with five other adventurers) descend into a special dungeon (in the classic fantasy role-playing sense) in order to complete the "Trial of Champions," the ultimate test of strengh and skill. In fact, no one has ever survived the dungeon, so Baron Sukumvit's (nice name, eh?) 10,000 gold piece prize has never been claimed. So sad.

The back story really works well for the Fighting Fantasy genre. Because these books often end up as elaborate mazes, putting the adventure in an actual maze works very well. It also allows for all sorts of strange encounters with traps and monsters without destroying the coherency of the story line. And trust me, you will run across all sorts of weird things, not all of which make sense at the time. And there are a LOT of dead ends and fox hunts. However, I expect a good gamebook to be challenging, and Deathtrap Dungeon fits the bill very well.

The book isn't perfect, though. My main beef was that the creature encounters were often a little too tough, even though the book says that if you choose the correct path you can get through fairly easy, no matter how poor your characteristics are. That is a lie. Unless you are a demon with the dice, you will need a SKILL of at least 9, and LUCK to spare.

So just play with good characters, but still play this book. It is well worth it for you to find a copy of this book and read it through. It is challenging, and it will take some luck to get through even when you know exactly what you want to do. It's too bad the creature encounters weren't more realistic, as this book could have earned five stars.