Thursday, March 12, 2015

Game 178: The Citadel of Chaos (1984)


The Citadel of Chaos
Penguin Books (developer and publisher), based on a book by Steve Jackson
Released 1984 for Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum
Date Started: 8 March 2015
Date Ended: 9 March 2015
Total Hours: 4
Reload Count: 6
Difficulty: Easy (2/5)
Final Rating: 18
Ranking at Time of Posting: 32/175 (18%)
There are good and bad ways to adapt gamebooks, tabletop modules, and other paper properties for the computer. SSI knew how to do it right. They created an excellent CRPG engine and then (for some games) populated it with content from existing sources, adapting as necessary to the new medium. In almost all cases, you would never know there were prior sources unless someone told you. When this isn't true--such as with all the NPCs in Curse of the Azure Bonds--it's a little jarring.

Tunnels & Trolls doesn't do as good a job as the Gold Box games. Too many of the encounters use text instead of game mechanics, often making you feel like you're playing a gamebook inside a window of a CRPG. But it doesn't do horrible, either. The game mechanics aren't bad, and when they're used, they're used well.

If the Gold Box series gets it right and T&T gets it half-right, The Citadel of Chaos does it all wrong, adapting its gamebook so literally that there's no reason not to simply read the original book. The "game" is quite literally an on-screen book, revealing its text in a small window in ALL CAPS. The mechanics are so poor that the game forces you to write down three-letter spell codes so you can cast them at the appropriate times, instead of just selecting them from a list. It introduces an unnecessary real-time element to both combat and spellcasting (you have to type the letters in a brief time window), and none of the many nice illustrations by Russ Nicholson make it into the computer version. A copy of Citadel of Chaos on your Kindle is almost as much of a "computer game."

The original book cover. I'm not sure what that thing is supposed to be.

Before I played the game, I bought and read the original gamebook by Steve Jackson. I don't care for the nature of the choices--something we'll talk more about anon--but the writing is good. While the primary audience is clearly youngsters, Jackson doesn't "write down" to them--something I always appreciated when I was a youngster myself. The story has a main quest. The logistics are solid enough to make you feel that you're getting a quasi-RPG experience, but not so confounding that you want to stop reading every time you encounter a foe. The book helps you out with inventory sheets and even rolls of the dice (each page has a pair of dice at the bottom; you flip rapidly and stop on one). Compared to the T&T solo adventures, which tried to incorporate too many logistics from the tabletop RPG and gave you no help with the mechanics, it's a lot more fun.

The Citadel of Chaos (1983) was the second entry in Puffin Books' Fighting Fantasy series, originally spanning 59 titles between Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone's The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (1982) and Jonathan Green's Curse of the Mummy (1995). The Sorcery! and Adventures of Goldhawk quadriologies used the same mechanics but (unlike the main series) allowed the reader to play a persistent hero. There were related novels and even an "introductory role-playing game," accompanied by a small series of books with more advanced mechanics. A 2002-2007 revival by Wizard Books republished more than 30 of the original titles and half a dozen brand new titles. A host of them, including The Citadel of Chaos, have seen Android and iOS adaptations since 2010.

The original attempts to render Fighting Fantasy to the computer were done in-house, at Puffin Books, which probably explains their lack of sophistication as computer games. In addition to The Citadel of Chaos, we have The Forest of Doom (third book in the series) on the 1984 list. The company also commissioned an "adaptation" of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain from Crystal Computing; the game looks like a low-rent Telengard but without enough elements to be considered a CRPG.

For all the text in-game, the computer version omits the book's backstory (perhaps it came in the manual; I haven't been able to find it yet), which relates how the good people of the Vale of Willow have for years lived in fear of the rogue "demi-sorcerer," Balthus Dire, who plots mischief from his keep at Craggen Rock. Now faced with reports that Dire is summoning an "army of Chaotics" to conquer the Vale, King Salamon has asked for assistance from the Grand Wizard of Yore. The reader/player is the Grand Wizard's "star pupil," sent to infiltrate Craggen Rock and kill Balthus Dire.

The Fighting Fantasy system is based on three attributes: skill, stamina, and luck. Some of the books list "magic power" as a fourth attribute, but this is really just a pool of points from which you "buy" a selection of spells at the beginning of the game. (Some of the books don't offer spells and instead have you buy magic items with gold pieces.) As you start the book or game, skill is determined by 1d6+6, stamina by 2d6+12, luck by 1d6+6, and magic power by 2d6+6. All of them fluctuate from these initial values during the adventure, stamina most of all because it represents your hit point pool. Combat is a simple matter of rolling 2d6 for both yourself and the monster and adding your respective skills; whoever has the higher roll does 2 stamina points damage, with an option to make an additional luck roll to either increase damage to the monster or minimize damage to you.

Creating a character in the computer version of the game.
This is all translated somewhat clumsily into the game, where you and your enemy's statistics appear on opposite sides of the combat screen and you "roll dice" with the spacebar. Technically, the game gives you the ability to choose to swing high or low in addition to making a regular attack, but I didn't notice any difference. Luck is offered as an alternative to skill rather than something you can use to supplement your skill-based combat rolls. Where the book allows you to roll combats against two NPCs, or against an enemy and your own "Creature Copy" of the enemy, these are handled in the game with simple luck rolls.

Combat is just hitting a few keys to run random dice rolls. Given my skill versus his, his rolls have to be at least 7 points higher than mine for him to score a hit.
Magic is integral to the game system, and at the beginning of the adventure, the player selects a number of spells equal to his magic power. The spells offered in the book and game are "Creature Copy," "E.S.P.," "Fire," "Fool's Gold," "Illusion," "Levitation," "Luck," "Shielding," "Skill," "Stamina," "Strength," and "Weakness," and you can choose more than one instance of a spell. They work more like inventory items, used to solve puzzles or make encounters easier, than traditional CRPG combat spells.

Selecting spells at the beginning of the game.

One thing the game offers that the book doesn't is the ability to "augur" which spells might be useful in a given situation--but it costs you one random spell, so it's not really worth it.

Figuring out what spells might work isn't worth the loss of one of them.
There are other types of equipment in the game. You're assumed to have a suit of leather armor and a sword when you start, but you can find better items that make small adjustments to your scores. Other items are used, like spells, for puzzle-solving. You can visit your inventory at any time and use some of the items, like food and a starting spell scroll, whenever you need. The game just barely squeaks by as a CRPG with this approach to inventory and occasional boosts to your attributes, usually from plot points. There's no traditional experience or leveling in the game.

A mid-game character sheet. This character got really good rolls.
This kind of plot-based stat increase is the only "leveling" in the game.
With the statistics rolled and the spells chosen, the adventure begins.

The sun sets. As twilight turns to darkness, you start your climb up the hill towards the forbidding shape silhouetted against the night sky. The Citadel is less than an hour's climb.

Some distance from its walls you stop to rest--a mistake, as it seems a fearful spectre from which there is no escape. The hairs on your neck prickle as you look towards it.

But you are ashamed of your fears. With grim resolve, you march on towards the main gate, where you know guards will be waiting. You consider your options. You have already thought about claiming to be a herbalist, come to treat a guard with a fever. You could pose as a trader or artisan--perhaps a carpenter. You could even be a nomad, seeking shelter for the night.

The first choice of the game has you confronting the Citadel's front gate guards--one with a head of a dog and the body of an ape; the other the opposite--and choosing whether to pose as an herbalist, tradesman, or nomad seeking shelter. Here's how that first choice plays out in the book:

Click to enlarge.
The computer game's literal adaptation of this process isn't so much a problem as a failure of imagination--a failure to use the medium for its strengths. The basic process isn't any different from what modern games, like Dragon Age: Inquisition, use, although the decision trees are a lot more complicated in modern games. What is different about good computer games is that they can make amendments and substitutions within the main plot based on player decisions. Everyone who finishes Inquisition gets a narrative explaining what happened next, but there are several dozen versions of it based on the choices the player made throughout the game. Where the game can simply substitute names and situations in the dialogue depending on the circumstances, a book of static text would literally require several dozen separate, but in some cases nearly-identical, paragraphs.

The book requires every player to end up in the courtyard, at entry 251, in roughly the same state. You can't have one player show up there with the guards hot on his heels or another having alerted the entire castle by levitating over the walls. No adjustments can be made in the text based on what the player said at the gate: he cannot, for instance, actually go and find Kylltrog. He can't even turn around and go back to the gate and confront the guards again. These limitations make the book, including its literal computer adaptation, much less satisfying than a regular CRPG. And while T&T does it a little better--at least the party can walk around--it's just as limiting in the main encounters. Generally, once you initiate an encounter, you can't leave or return.

The first three options all literally lead to the same result. If you choose #4, the NPC speaks a bit of drivel and then you get the same three options, all leading, again, to the same result.
The game is full of these Morton's forks. Three paths from the courtyard inevitably end up at the same citadel door. Multiple paths in the citadel ultimately converge into a series of specific rooms. However, it does make a big difference what happens along the way. For 8/10 of its short running time (you can't save, so it has to be short), the game gives you the illusion that just about any combination of skills, spells, and items will work if you use them judiciously. This turns out to be spectacularly untrue. There are a series of encounters at the end of the game that are simply unsurvivable if you haven't been to certain places and picked up key items, and in almost all of those places, only a banal decision whether to go right or left separates you from victory and a "walking dead" scenario.

Going right means you can't win the game.
Thus, I had to play The Citadel of Chaos about six times before winning. All plots resolve into four major endgame encounters: a host of undead creatures called "ganjees" that are immune to spells and swords and must be bribed; a three-headed hydra; a door with a combination lock; and Balthus Dire himself. To get past these encounters, you must:

  • Either take the path in the courtyard that leads to combat with three foes and rewards you with a jar of healing ointment, or somewhere in the citadel take the path that leads you to a pantry, where you get a "charmed amulet" from some "scouts." One of the two items is necessary to bribe the ganjees to leave you alone.

At least the game is going to let me save myself with a "Levitation" spell!

Oops. Guess not.
  • Visit the library. This is one of those left/right decisions, but you absolutely need to visit the library to read a book about the citadel that gives you a combination to the door. Another book, about Balthus Dire, gives you a key clue that you need in the endgame. But if you read the book about Dire first, you can't read any other books. You have to do it in the right order. Even then, the game is bugged because the combination it gives you in the paragraph is not the same one you have to use to open the door.

It sounds like it's going to give you the option to start over, but I couldn't get it to reload.
  • Show up to the endgame with three copies of "Creature Copy," a golden fleece, or a "pocket myriad," any of which will defeat the hydra.

One or two spells isn't enough.
The final battle with Balthus Dire and his pet clawbeast can go a lot of ways. You can just fight them and trust your skill and stamina to hold out. You can cast "Weakness" on the clawbeast and take him out of the combat and then deal with Dire in combat or through another mechanism. You can exchange spells until he casts one that starts the floor trembling, then cast "Levitate" to get to the window or armory cupboard. Another spell exchange leaves him tired out, allowing you to get to the window or cupboard. You can open the cupboard to find a magic sword and fight him with it. The most satisfying ending is to run to the window and pull down the curtain, letting in the sunlight to destroy him--something that the book in the library clues you to do.

I just figured out a clever way to destroy him, and yet I'm somehow a "fool."

The endgame text has you burning Dire's office and invasion plans, after which you ponder whether you can "Levitate" out the window to safety or whether you'll have to fight your way back through the citadel. "But that is another story...." After that, you get a winning message and a chance to replay the game with different choices.

There are only a couple of places like this--where intelligence from an earlier paragraph gives you a clue during an encounter. Most of the decisions in the game (just as in the book) are completely arbitrary, without logic or role-playing. Help an old man with a wound and you get bitten for a major loss of stamina. Cast a "Strength" spell before one battle, a perfectly logical thing to do, and your pumped-up muscles accidentally send your sword flying into the distance when you unsheathe it. Try to talk nicely to a ghost and she keeps harassing you; get angry at her and she leads you to safety.

In short, the game plays like a relentlessly linear, illogical adventure game more than a CRPG. In a GIMLET, I'd give it:

  • 2 points for a standard "kill the wizard" backstory and generally derivative game world.
  • 1 point for character creation and development. Character creation is all random and improvements are entirely plot-based, unlike a traditional RPG.
  • 2 points for some one-way NPC interaction.
  • 3 points for foes distinguished only by their attributes and encounters that, while meaningful, have nothing to do with puzzle-solving or role-playing.
  • 2 points for a combat system that offers no tactics. The magic system is a little better, but just like with "encounters," the results of your choices are somewhat arbitrary, except in obvious cases where you're falling and need to cast "Levitate" or you need money and you have a "Fool's Gold" spell.

  • 1 point for its almost all puzzle-based equipment system.
  • 1 point for the economy. You can get gold from certain encounters, but there aren't many places to spend it, and in general gold is treated more like equipment than a true economy.
  • 3 points for a main quest with a few different options. No side quests.
  • 1 point for graphics, sound, and interface. It gets nothing for graphics, failing to even include the well-drawn graphics from the book. There's sound, but just a bunch of somewhat random dings, crunches, and brief tunes. The interface isn't very good, requiring you to hold down SPACE to speed up the text, including the silly real-time aspect to spellcasting and combat, requiring you to write down or memorize three-letter spell codes, and providing a set of keyboard commands that are unintuitive.

Russ Nicholson's illustrations enliven the book but not the computer game, which has no graphics except bad monster portraits in combat.
  • 2 points for gameplay that's linear but somewhat replayable, not very challenging, but also not very long.
With a final score of 18, it's in the lower tier of offerings, and overall not much of an RPG. I have Puffin's only other direct adaptation of a Fighting Fantasy book--The Forest of Doom--also on my 1984 list, and I suspect it offers exactly the same gameplay. I haven't decided whether to reject it as an RPG or play it fairly soon as part of this ongoing series of "gamebook adaptation" posts. I guess it will depend largely on whether I can think of anything else to say about the genre.


In list news, Empire III: Armageddon was going to pop up next on the list next, but no one seems to have a copy. I've had to list it as "NP" until one turns up. I've had to do the same for Dungeons of Doom, a very obscure 1990 dungeon crawler. I've also rejected Fame Quest (1984) as an RPG (only GameFAQs thought it was).


Further reading: We've explored the connection between CRPGs and gamebooks in one, two, three postings about Tunnels & Trolls: Crusaders of Khazan, and in the next post, I looked at the next Fighting Fantasy book, The Forest of Doom. If you want to know more about the plot of The Citadel of Chaos, I recommend a series of four posts by fellow RPG blogger Baxter Anderson, who just completed the game a couple of months ago.


  1. Yeah, this wasn't a strong book. Very linear. Some books in the series had compelling exploration,paths that didn't require high stat rolls, multiple win conditions and interesting mechanics (eg Robot Commando), most were more like CoC, with limited replayability.

    That font. Ugh.

    1. Serif fonts don't really work with no font smoothing, do they? Owww.

    2. The first three FF aren't particularly strong (CoC, Forest of Doom, and Warlock of firetop mountain) and are mostly revered because of nostalgia. I still think CoC is the best of these though.

      The three that followed (City of Thieves, Starship Traveller and Deathtrap Dungeon) are a great.

  2. Hey, nice review! One question: how did you do the algorythm? I'd like to do that, too! :)

    1. I assume you mean the flowchart? I used a free online tool called Gliffy:

  3. I will try to dig up Dungeons of Doom. I remember playing it back in 1992/1993, it wasn't very complex.

    1. Don't kill yourself trying to find it.

    2. That name seems familiar... I've been meaning to copy off all my old floppy disks anyway. I'll let you know if I find it (or anything else that qualifies as a CRPG.)

    3. Does anyone have a screenshot of it?

  4. Wow, I used to absolutely love the Fighting Fantasy books back as a teenager, but never realized they got turned into games, apart from the action game Deathtrap Dungeon, which I remember not liking that much. From memory the later books in the series are better written and avoid most walking dead scenarios, but I remember that I always used to play (read?) them by dog-earing pages that had important choices and just going back to them instead of starting all over again. Sometimes that lead to half the book being dog-eared though! Looking at my bookshelf I still have a copy of the Sorcery! series, for me the best choose your own adventure books ever written. I also have a copy of the book Titan, which is the "ultimate guide to the Fighting Fantasy planet", and looking at it now it would make a great world for a genuine RPG. Its a shame that such a thing hasn't happened.

    1. Same here. A few classmates and I even had few games in the Blood Sword books. It's one of those rare multi-player ones.

      It would not be until GURPS that this came back in the form of tutorials at the end of the book.

  5. I played a few of the gamebooks back when I was younger, and vaguely remember this one (the "pocket myriad" is vaguely familiar, I seem to recall having to look up what that was).

    I remember a bit more about Forest of Doom, and House of Hell.

  6. If you are on a game book kick, do not forget that "Flight From the Dark" and "Fire on the Water" were released in 1984 for the Spectrum. They are almost certainly no more a cRPG than this one, although they have action based combat with a light skill system. 1984 seems to be a banner year for under-produced game book adaptations.

    On the plus side, it would give you (and me) an excuse to reread the first Lone Wolf book(s) and discover just how unfortunate my childhood was. I used to have all of these until getting into the third (or fourth?) series and the US editions had a bugged book that could not be completed. I never recovered to read the rest of the books.

    1. Side note: If you're into Lone Wolf, books 1-12 have been adapted to Android, with a whole engine that allows you to carry your items and skill from book-to-book.

      There's an almost impossible mandatory fight in book 11 or 12 that I never got past though. :(

    2. They're on my list. I haven't decided whether to just jump to them to have the gamebook discussion all at once or whether I'll save them for later.

    3. I loved the Lone Wold gamebook series. I used to have the full collection of the hardcover re-releases from quite some time ago, but wound up selling them after I realized I never opened a single one and that I could play the gamebooks online anyway.

      Besides, I preferred the art from the 80s books over the 2000's re-releases.

  7. Aww, I was really looking forward to Empire III - I liked the wackiness of the series.
    Did you realize that there's a spelling error in the character creation screen? "warior". That annoys me.

    1. Maybe it's supposed to be "phantasy spelling."


    3. If this were an NES game I would've assumed character space limitations...

  8. In the middle of Acheton (remember I'm blogging through adventures much like Trickster, but I'm doing text adventures too) I mention Forest of Doom, although there might be what you'd consider a spoiler.

    Forest of Doom is a better gamebook, but if you're wanting "nonlinearity", be careful what you wish for.

    1. Yeah, I wrote this post a few days before I posted it. Despite what I said in the last sentence, I actually already took a look at FOD, which annoyed me for the reasons you probably suspect. I'll be doing a post on that to wrap up the gamebook discussion.

  9. i had an annoying friend who insisted on pronouncing chaos how it is spelt.
    Scorpion Swamp is the book that is most like a video game.

    1. Was his reasoning that it was pronounced with the "ch" sound in Sonic? ( )

    2. sonic hadnt been born yet, this was about '88

    3. Was your friend Brad Wagner then?

    4. The weird thing about Sonic is that it's pronounced both ways, depending on which creature the game is referring to. It made for a lot of confusion back in the day.

  10. The first five Fighting Fantasy books were also translated and published in Finland, and I've played them all, often with friends. This gamebook theme feels like an interesting detour for the blog.

  11. Will Save World For GoldMarch 12, 2015 at 8:13 PM

    Demi-sorcerer Balthus Dire! *KRACKABOOM*

  12. This looks to be a pretty mediocre offering, but I think it's interesting for how it represents the wild, sort of frontiersman spirit of computer game development of the time. There was this new market, and people were looking to get in on it, but nobody really had a formula down yet.

    I mean, if Penguin Books was looking to make some money on an adaptation of one of their properties today, they'd just strike some sort of licensing deal with EA or Ubisoft or whoever. But back then? They just did it themselves! How hard can it be, right?

  13. RIP Terry. The Discworld MUD RPG is closed from PKing today.

    Okay, going to cry in a corner now while I scour the deepest darkest parts of the internet to search on any news of his final book.

    1. Well I can't think of a better place to have heard this terrible news than here. RIP Terry.

  14. I haven't played this one (the book, not the computer adaptation) in decades, but I actually remember it as being one of the better ones, with great atmosphere (but lots of dead man walking situations, which was unfortunately common in these books -- House of Hell, another Steve Jackson one, was possibly even worse in that respect, but was also brilliantly atmospheric).

    Still, great review of the book (the game seems to be a straight adaptation, unfortunately missing the art because, well, 8-bit.

    In no way would I call them "RPGs", but a company called Tin Man Games has been adapting several gamebooks for iOS and Android (and Ian Livingstone's Forest of Doom is also available from them on Steam, for PC), with improved art, music, bookmarks and so on. The FF adaptations are very good, but I'd actually recommend their original gamebooks (starting with An Assassin in Orlandes) even more.

    1. I second An Assassin in Orlandes, all the collectibles make for tons of replayability, for a gamebook.

  15. I still have a huge collection of these books at my parents house. Steve Jackson books were always more inventive than Ian Livingstone's, but way harder (House of Hell might be the most difficult FF book).

    Nowadays i play the Android versions from Tin Man Games which are very good, except for the Starship Traveller which doesn't have the beautiful original artwork.

    Chet, Forest of Doom might well be the least good of the classic FF books, but it's also the easier.

    1. I'd say Island of the Lizard King is easier than Forest of Doom. FoD has many dead man walking situations from turning left instead of right, while Lizard King, other than a couple of tough combats, is a book you'll probably beat in your 2nd-3rd attempt (without cheating in any way).

  16. Hardest might be crimson tide. Thanks partly to a typo, and partly because you need to do something different with the clues you receive. House of Hell seemed to be one of those books where death was totally random, which I don't care for much.

  17. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. While it's always nice to hear from an RPGCodex member, do try to be more specific next time.


  18. I only played one of the game books, and it has been so very long that I have no recollection of which title it was. I liked D&D (I had not yet played very many CPRGs ), but I did not like the bok for whatever reason.

    I do have to commend Chester's presistence in finishing the game. I would have abandoned it in frustration after reaching the first "unwinnable" conclusion.

  19. Played these gamebooks as a kid, still have a nostalgic love for them. But I definitely understand the frustrations, especially from a modern gaming perspective! In its defense, I'd offer that we didn't have nearly as many entertainment options back then, so the challenge of playing through again and again, trying to find the *one right path*, wasn't as onerous. With FFs, that process of discovery through trial and error to find the (usually) ONE correct route, really was part of the game. As opposed to the Lone Wolf books, which usually had several different ways you could complete the adventure.

    (Also, in the gamebook you can actually cheat in a way that you can't on computer: Keep a few fingers in the book at your last choices so you can easily "rewind" when killed off. And even back then, I think I only played through the combats on my first or second attempt. After that, I - and many others, I'd wager - would just skip past any combat sections, automatically "winning" them.)

    That said, when I discovered the existence of these computer adaptations a few years back, I was initially excited - until I booted one up and saw, as you did, that it was largely just a transposing of the text. I don't think I played it more than a few minutes after that.

    1. The only Lone Wolf with a maddeningly specific route you HAD to take, that I recall, was the second one.

  20. A couple of specific responses to several things mentioned above:

    - As it happens, there ARE ways that gamebooks could offer later choices based on previous ones. You mention above that the player can't "actually go and find Kylltrog", but such a thing could of course have been implemented: Say one of the characters you meet in the courtyard tells you his name is Kyltrog. The gamebook could then ask if you've heard this name before (the Lone Wolf books did this a lot, as I recall), and if so, offer you the choice to offer him some food or medicine (since your prior conversation means you know he is sick, knowledge that another player wouldn't necessarily have). Of course, in a well-done computer adaptation, the "have you heard this name before?" check would be invisible.

    - Additionally, with regards to "He can't even turn around and go back to the gate and confront the guards again." - again, this is an innovation that a later installment, the aforementioned Scorpion Swamp, *would* allow. Scorpion Swamp was the eighth book, and was kind of shocking in how much it innovated. For instance, the swamp itself could be navigated both forward and back like any RPG encounter; you could go north from one area, then south again to go back to it. Each area would have an "initial" state, and then a "visited" state for you to turn to if you've been there before. Additionally, at the beginning you could choose to work for one of three wizards (good, neutral, evil), which affected the encounters you came upon in the swamp. Honestly, it was so innovative in its upending of the FF formula that it was doubly shocking to me (A) that, to my knowledge, it was never done again, and (B) it's never yet, to my knowledge, been selected for a computer adapation. Despite being the one perhaps most initially suited. (Unsurprisingly, this creative book was actually written by the American Steve Jackson, later of Steve Jackson Games, and not the one who helped found Fighting Fantasy and Games Worskhop.)

    1. That makes sense then- those are all very RPG ways to do things and ASJ was primarily an RPG writer at the time.

  21. - Interesting to read that the computer version (tried to) give you an in-game option to try again with different paths, there at the end. That's one of the things I think Forest of Doom did right; if you reach the end without finding both parts of the hammer, you're offered the option of circling the forest back to the beginning to try again (and keeping any items you found the first time). Of course, this approach does give rise to problems with realism, since - absent any of the innovative "room memory" functions of the later Scorpion Swamp - you will then almost certainly encounter foes you've already killed!

    - Finally, the only bit of your review I find *slightly* unfair is the screen shot showing the three doors from the leprechaun's room, and how they all lead to the same place. That's true - but only the FIRST time, and because (as it turns out) the leprechaun is pranking you with some nightmarish illusion. After you've met your (fake) demise and wake up in the leprechaun's room again, the three doors DO lead to different places.

    All that said, while I still have some nostalgic love for the series (and have been enjoying the heck out of the modern adaptations by Tin Man Games), I was shocked when I saw CoC in your "upcoming list". Because, inventory and hit points aside, they're really just CYOAs rather than RPGs.

    1. The thing is, they COULD have been RPGs with a little more creativity and thought in the adaptation.

      Point taken on the three doors.

      As we're going to see, The Forest of Doom didn't adapt that "return to the beginning" option very well.

    2. Yep, definitely missed opportunity (and clearly the path of least required effort)!

  22. "Citadel" is actually one of my favorite Fighting Fantasy books, largely because it does two things right:

    1) It allows you to solve the book with minimal starting skills - there are only three or so fights that cannot be circumvented and the monsters are all fairly weak.

    2) It offers numerous different paths through the book, each one leading you to different places, so you will be far from reading all identical stuff each time.

    This, in my opinion, should be sufficient to go with the "stick with your choices; win all reasonable combats automatically" playstyle. If only all FF books had allowed this - many of the later titles, especially those by Ian Livingstone, are extremely linear with only minor deviations, meaning you indeed have to read 90% of the same stuff each time to find the 1% with the crucial item you missed before. At which point, there's not much "choose" from "Choose your own adventure" left. Good thing that "Fighting Fantasy" put emphasis on the "fighting", because you'd certainly be doing that.

    If someone wrote an exploration-based FF-style book today, I might actually buy it, because, well, sometimes I just like a book instead of a screen. But alas, linearity seems to be the king of the day, apparently to allow for more consistent "story telling". In essence, this could be seen as the forebear of today's "sandbox vs. narrow story".

  23. I tend to find that most of the old school gamebooks, because of how short they are, play more like nano-roguelikes than CRPGs/JRPGs. There's no grind so you end up playing it like one giant level where your job is to figure out the right combination of moves to unlock. Strangely enough, if anything they're mechanically like the one screen point and click puzzle (not adventure!) games where the goal is to combine ingredients/steps in a certain order. (Speaking of which, can anyone remember one of those games?)

    Since I've been working on building a gamebook recently, I spent some time rambling about how you might make gamebooks more fun, from a design perspective. Still thinking about it though.

    Also Morton's fork is now permanently in my vocabulary now, next to Hobson's choice.

  24. All this love for Gamebooks and no love for the Car Wars books? Were they not very good or just not well known?


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