Thursday, June 17, 2010

#2 - "The Citadel of Chaos" - Steve Jackson (1983)

Much to my alarm, when I delved into my inherited wineboxes full of gamebooks I couldn't find a copy of "Citadel" so I actually went and bought a copy of the 2009 re-release from the Young Adults section of Whitcoulls, in amongst the "Goosebumps" and "Twilight" novels. I felt pretty awkward about this. I even had a story ready to go if the cashier queried my purchase - "The Citadel of Chaos" was to be a present for a fictive thirteen year-old cousin named Lucas, in hospital with a brittle-bone syndrome and an immediate need to be discouraged from further participation in high-risk activities such sports and rough-housing with boon companions. But I escaped unchallenged and Lucas has been stashed away to avert some other future stigma.

Astute readers will notice that I have nevertheless posted an image of the first-edition cover (lifted from here) since it is one of my favorites. The artist, soft-porn icon "Emanuelle", has not been heard from in the world of illustration since realizing this vision and retiring to loll about on a golden cumulus of achievement. On the other hand, back in 1983 when Steve Jackson viewed the first proofs of the cover he reportedly exclaimed "MOTHERFUCKER it is meant to be Citadel of CHAOS not Citadel of CONGA" and remained inconsolable for a number of minutes. Accordingly, in later editions the original art was replaced by a mess of opera-singing green spaghetti which can only be construed as a deliberate affront to Emanuelle. You can see it right here if you want (but I'd say that you don't, really).


Once again you are sneaking into a wizard's house to stick his toothbrush up your bum, which I mean metaphorically, because literally, of course, you are there to murder him. However, in the first of several improvements over "Warlock" we have a bit of context to work with. Basically the nefarious Balthus Dire is squatting up there in his Citadel planning a massed monster invasion of the surrounding countryside and, in an effort to preserve his own repressive hegemony, the local strongman "good King Salamon" employs YOU to go put a hole in the dude's throat.

(That's it - not much of a story I suppose, but I felt like I could get behind it)

Rolling Up My Dude

Starting stats:
SKILL - 12 (another lucky roll for SKILL)
LUCK - 7

In the first of Steve Jackson's many variations on the core rule-sets, in "Citadel" you are also a magician, and must therefore roll two dice and add six to find out how much spells you got.

I rolled a 14 for magic, and chose the following:

Creature Copy
Fire x2
Illusion x2
Levitation x3
Luck x2

The functions of these spells should be pretty obvious from their names, so I won't describe them. Besides which, none of them mattered since every time I actually cast a spell it was in response to some red herring designed purely to induce me to waste spells (well to be truthful, a Levitiation spell did save me from one particular trap that a less awesomely empowered mortal may have evaded instead by simply letting go of a rope).

It's worth noting that in the 2009 reprinting of the book, you are also given the option of choosing from three characters with prepared stats and their own names (e.g. Tybalt Spellcaster!) and back-stories (he is the youngest scion of the Spellcaster family, a long and noble line of business continuity managers!) This is presumably because intervening generations of children have been so ruined by techno music and Dragonball Z fight scenes that they are unable to display the recquisite grit and initiative to roll up their own character and choose a few spells in the dreadful foreknowledge that "Fucking" Steve Jackson is going to trick you into wasting them on bullshit.

("Tybalt Spellcaster" is an actual name from the book by the way. Didn't make that up.)

The Adventure

At the gates of the Citadel of Chaos you are greeted with a sight now justifiably renowned in all corners of the world:

These guys are the Kid'n'Play of Fighting Fantasy.

Reviewers sometimes cite APE-DOG and DOG-APE as evidence that Steve Jackson was basically just making up nonsense, but I feel their appearance is totally consistent with the notion of Balthus Dire as this over-resourced magical lunatic, tinkering with head swaps in the quest to create the ultimate war-beast (or possibly just facilitate the greatest expression of love between two creatures that has ever been conceived). It is certainly more interesting than encountering a couple of asleep goblins at the gate.

I was able to bullshit my way into the Citadel by whipping out some garden weeds and pretending to be a herbalist summoned to treat "Kylltrog" (which presumably I knew was a popular name for orcish babies about twenty years ago). Encouraged by this success, and despite my overwhelming combat skill, I adopted a policy of stealth and subterfuge, avoiding fights and generally wandering around trying to act as though I belonged. This policy wasn't 100% successful - at one point some unseen assailant shot an arrow in my leg before wandering off - but in the main it worked well. This is presumably because Balthus Dire has such an odd assortment of servants and allies that it is impossible to appear out of place among all the DOG-APES, RHINO-MAN guards, laundry GHOSTS, BLACK ELF sommaliers, "living whirlwind ladies", etc. The old principle applies - if you walk around purposefully holding a piece of paper, people will assume that you're supposed to be here. I guess Balthus Dire was relying on lack of local knowledge to catch out any ne'er-do-wells (which actually worked in my case).

Locals presumably know to step over the subterranean warty grey tentacles when strolling about the courtyard.

I bumbled into a couple of silly STAMINA penalties that are worth mentioning since either of these could kill you and probably have taken out a few players over the years. In one case I was trying to open a box and barked my shin on it (painful sure, but deadly?) Later I lost a STAMINA point because I got scared looking at a painting of Balthus Dire.

Oof, my STAMINA!

I should add that in the same gallery Balthus also has an "ape-bodies" version of this painting:

Classics never die.

Monsters and Combat

As mentioned above I tried to bullshit my way around combat, and against my expectations, I only had two fights in the whole adventure. The two battles have an ironic connection in fact. The first fight I picked was against this GOLEM, basically because I couldn't resist seeing what was inside those three boxes sitting on the pile of crap in the corner.

So, the GOLEM has his own little "Flintstones" coffee table and chair? That's an odd detail.

The GOLEM, at SKILL 8, was a low risk fight for a guy that still had SKILL 11. As for my prize - one of the boxes contained a key, which unlocked a second box, which also contained a key, that - you guessed it - unlocked the third box. The third box contained a jar with a man-faced spider in it, which naturally I took with me (perhaps elsewhere in the Citadel there is a spider-faced man?)

As it turned out, in that whole performance with the nuisance boxes (one of which I barked my shin on) I unlocked only my ultimate demise...

Failure and Death

So here's what happened with my second fight. It started with GANJEES:

GANJEES happened.

I first read Citadel of Chaos at a very young age and was for years afterwards was pretty convinced that there was a GANJEES Face living in the garage. Upon sight of this nasty old Ian McKellen face wafting towards you, the text states you "throw yourself on the ground" and "begin to feel very frightened" which I guess was enough to make a strong impression on me as a child. The other memorable characteristics of the GANJEES are that they cancel magic and can't be fought, basically if you don't have one of two items to get past them then "it's curtains for you" (which is what I was planning to say to Balthus Dire when I fought him but I didn't get to use that line in the end).

So, remembering that I needed an item I fished around in my backpack and produced the jar with the man-faced spider, whereupon the GANJEES exclaimed, "Racknee! You have returned!" and promptly popped the cap on that mess. Turns out the man-face spider and the GANJEES go back a ways - who knew. Racknee then "growls a little growl" (adorable) and we enter combat (a strange image considering that despite having a little old age pensioner face, Racknee is just normal spider size). By this point - only my second fight - my SKILL had been worn down to 9 through various mishaps, and Racknee got a good roll and damaged me in the first round. Since he was extremely venomous, that's all she wrote:

"Your last memory is its ugly little face biting into your neck"

How pleasant. Peeking ahead, had I survived the fight with Racknee I would have been offed by the GANJEES anyway - perished for want of a jar of ointment which the GANJEES would've accepted in trade for my life, for some purpose (rub it on their face, I guess?)


Yes I have skimmed "The Citadel of Chaos" fairly thoroughly and there are no SKELETONS. This is a troubling result that brings the whole need for a SKELETON Report into question. I'm hoping that my boy Ian will come through with some more boney action next time in "Forest of Doom". Dude is practically the patron saint of SKELETONS after all.

Final Thoughts

My trip through "Citadel of Chaos" felt like it was over pretty quickly - maybe because I accidentally chose one of the shorter routes to the GANJEES room, or perhaps because I'm benchmarking it against that awful maze in "Warlock". Lack of a labyrinth isn't the only improvement over "Warlock" though - compared to Firetop Mountain, the Citadel feels much more like a real place, with rooms and denizens that seem to have an everyday purpose - there's a wine cellar, a larder, a kitchen, a banquet hall, servants (usually monsters, but sometimes GHOSTS), bedrooms...
...even day care!

So, with a coherent environment, a sense of a greater (albeit hackneyed) story playing out, and a wider variety of interesting monsters and encounters, "Citadel" is a big step up from "Warlock". 



  1. Love the stuff you're doing here!

    Citadel of Chaos was my first and most beloved Fighting Fantasy book. My favorite bit is the Gark being concerned about personal grooming and having a pretty hairbrush because it's so easy to let yourself go when you're half-giant and half-goblin.

    There's actually a couple of continuity errors that I've spotted. Brace yourself...

    (1) The illustration for the ape-dog and dog-ape shows burning torches yet the text says that "two lanterns burn on either side of the portcullis".

    (2) When the Scouts give you the Charmed Amulet the #102 text says "you place the Charmed Amulet around your neck" but later when confronting the Ganjees the #168 text says [after choosing something from your backpack] "You take out the Amulet and place it over your head."


  2. Thanks for the feedback.

    The thing that interests me about the GARK is his provenance, one has to assume that a half-goblin half-giant is generated in the traditional manner by a goblin and giant who love each other very much (as opposed to whatever disgusting processes are blasphemously harnessed to generate a DOG-APE). Whether the giant half of the couple is male or female, either way some fascinating questions arise as to the mechanics of the deed.

    It is an engineering problem, really.

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  4. Like a Great Dane going at it hammer and tongs with a startled chihuahua.

    Talking of errors, I stumbled upon this recently...


    #258 is an orphan entry and unreachable as no options lead to it.

  5. bizzarre. looks like maybe it was another way of trying to deal with those harmless orc babies