Deathtrap Dungeon

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Join us on the sixth adventure, into the brutal Deathtrap Dungeon!

In 1982, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, founders of Games Workshop, released the book ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’. Intended as an introduction to tabletop role-playing games of the era, the book’s choose-your-own-adventure format mixed with simple dice-based combat proved massively successful, giving rise to a full series of books – Fighting Fantasy. With over 65 books in the series by a legion of authors and illustrators, the series’ legacy continues to this day. Come along with us as Cybe and co play through each one – with no prior knowledge, no hints or walkthroughs and no cheating!  

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I asked a friend of mine what book I should review next. He said “One you can win”. So I chose this one purely to spite him. Deathtrap Dungeon is one of Livingstone’s babies, and has a large abundance of instant-death sections which will catch pretty much anyone off-guard. I also remember it being especially grueling and challenging even if you used the ‘keep your finger on the previous page’ cheat. The book was early in the Fighting Fantasy series, 6th if I remember right, and earned its place as a classic. I also remember a Playstation video game based on it released sometime in mid-to-late 1990s but the less we speak of that, the better. It’s aged worse than people who still make “did you assume my gender” jokes, and is only marginally less awful to experience.

The cheerful and happy Baron Sukumvit (well, of course he is, with a name like that) has built a dungeon filled with traps and monsters, and has been having great fun inviting people to come along and try to survive. I suppose that’s simply what people do when they have too much money and time on their hands. My character, evidently having nothing much to live for and deciding that jumping off a nearby cliff would be too painless, has decided to volunteer. His stats are fairly nice, with a skill of 9 and stamina of 15 – remember, that’s pretty buff when it comes to these games!

He also picked up a potion that will restore his stamina to its full level, which is bound to be very helpful against monsters that can swallow you whole. There really isn’t much of a storyline to this adventure – more of a vague excuse – but it’s enough to get the adventure going. “Hey, some crazy man built a dungeon that’ll make the Hunger Games look like playing on a bouncy castle, let’s go give it a shot!”

Immediately inside, I find a box that contains a couple gold coins, and I’m shocked it doesn’t explode or anything. Obviously Ian Livingstone, the author, is going easy on me. I head east at the crossroads, and find the path obstructed by a large fungus, which I attempt to cut through, only this DOES explore and injure me. Welp, that’s one lesson learned. The tunnel continues until it is quickly growing to be as hot as a furnace, and I am offered the chance to drink some ‘clear liquid’. Opting not to drink the obvious bottle of obviously-acid, I press on. Within a few moments, the entire tunnel decides that it’s just had enough and tries to incinerate me with strategically placed jets of heat and fire! Thankfully my high skill ensures I’m able to get through the tunnel without roasting like a Christmas turkey.

I’m able to grab a coil of rope from a nearby room, and am promptly beset by orcs. Although I am eventually victorious over the group, they’re able to knock my sword from my hand which seriously handicaps my skill score. I lose a full 10 stamina in this fight, so I’m feeling quite beaten by this point, but choose to continue without using any of my precious stamina potion. I should mention that according to the rules here, I can only use my provisions to recover stamina specifically when the book tells me to – thanks to a rather dubious printing slip, I’m sure – so I’m hoping it will offer me this choice very soon.

The next room contains one of my favorite pictures in the book – one of the rival contestants in the game impaled on a trap, having carelessly tried to grab some rather-obvious treasure – a fate suitable for the greedy and naive. I pick his pockets and eat some of his provisions. Due to my high luck score, I’m able to snatch up the gem-encrusted goblet that the hapless adventurer was trying to grab without meeting a similar fate – aren’t I a lucky camper? Venturing on, I come across a giant Buddha statue that has glistening gems for eyes. The book asks if I want to try to steal them – oh yeah, as if I haven’t learned anything from the dead fool in the previous room! No chance, I hurry on right past that obvious trap, completely leaving behind what I am pretty certain are gens that are vital to complete the game!

I enter another room, in which a booming disembodied voice demands that I pay tribute to the master of the dungeon. Given that I’m in not one to tolerate foolish bastards who screw around with people for their own delusions of grandeur, I reply “Sukumvit is a worm” and get ready to kick some ass. Curiously, the voice seems happy that I show such spirit, and gives me a gold ring. Shame, I was hoping to get to kick some ass again.

The next thing I encounter is even stranger – a pillar of blue light filled with laughing faces. I have the choice of stepping into it, perhaps assuming I can save my game here. That’s how save slots in this game work, right? Well, I don’t quite trust all the laughing faces, so I decide to go around the thing. With some luck, I find an opal-encrusted dagger lying in a pit of worms. The book asks if I want to grab it – y’know, as a hardy and vicious adventurer, I doubt I have any fear of worms. I grab the dagger without hesitation, and am quickly beset by a giant fly – wait, flies AND worms? I crush the fly without too much trouble, but the injuries I’ve accumulated now require me to use a swig of the healing potion. Only one swig left, I have to be careful with it!

I head to the west, and get the chance to fight a rock grub, which is essentially a giant dungeon centipede. The game asks if I want to run away. Run away? Don’t be ridiculous! Sure enough, I beat it down and only sustain a single injury. No problem. The book then asks if I wish to explore the grub’s tunnel. I hop on in, and am immediately eaten by the grub’s friend, who is sitting waiting in the tunnel. Hm, there’s a certain irony there. Yes, that was one of the book’s many sudden-death sections. Warned you about them, didn’t I?

There’s a lot more crazy things in this book than I remember, like the furnace tunnel, the beam of light with laughing faces and so on. It’s all quite odd, but also imaginative. There’s really not much in the way of storyline here, it’s a classic old-fashioned dungeon crawl. I’m also not sure I got the rules for the provisions right – the rules say that you can eat them when the book instructs you that you can, but I never came across any such mentions in the text! Very odd, I think that’s definitely a printing error in my copy. But eh, I swore at the start of this series that I’d play each one by the rules as written, so yeah.

Anyway, hope that was an enjoyable ride for everyone.

Cause of death: Eaten by a rock grub.

3 thoughts on “Deathtrap Dungeon”

  1. The restriction on eating Provisions is indeed an error. That *was* the rule in ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’, so that book has plenty of sections that say ‘you can eat here if you want’. Most subsequent FF books revised the rule to say you could eat at any time except during battle, so they didn’t bother specifying when eating was possible. The problem is, when the books got reprinted by a new publisher, somebody failed to pick up on this change, and made the rules from TWoFM the default version, so technically it became impossible to eat Provisions in a load of the books.

  2. I support reading in a local primary school. One of the pupils I work with (Mcl) spotted a continuity error in the handover between para 218 and 65. Does the handover make sense?

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