The Citadel of Chaos

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Join us on the second adventure, to the sinister Citadel of Chaos!

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!  

Before continuing, please be aware that all of this content is made possible by the goodwill and support of my backers on Patreon. If you enjoy the work on this site, please consider supporting the creation of more content like this by clicking the button.

There’s so much to say about this book, I feel that I want to give it a bit of an introduction first.Citadel of Chaos was the second Fighting Fantasy book, and in terms of structure and formula it’s very similar to The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Where it differs is in terms of location – rather than a dungeon, we’re given a castle. As a result, the rooms we encounter feel more cohesive, as if they’re a functional part of a greater castle, as opposed to the isolated rooms of Firetop. We can see elements of Citadel crop up many times in Fighting Fantasy books whenever you’re exploring a large castle or temple.

The storyline is equally simple. Balthus Dire is planning to conquer a friendly, happy region and you’ve been asked to slip into the castle and ‘take care’ of Dire before the invasion can go ahead. Hope you like pre-emptive assassination missions! Dire, if you remember, was one of the three iconic evil wizards in Fighting Fantasy mythos – that’s right, this series had a mythos – along with Zagor and Marr. While Zagor appeared in three books, and Marr’s history and personality were powerful factors in Creature of Havoc, this is the only time we see Dire. Frankly, he’s kinda the ‘little brother’ of the three, and I do think he’s the one character I’d love to see more done with.

In terms of how the game works, there’s some changes to Firetop. For a start, meals are gone. You don’t start with any. Your only way to regain stamina is via magic. Yeah, magic – in this adventure, you’re an apprentice wizard. It’s the first time that Fighting Fantasy tries to give the player spells to use, which is a system that Fighting Fantasy revisits often, with mixed success. Remember that at this point in the series, there was no ‘Fighting Fantasy formula’, so experiments like this are so very cool to see.

It’s also worth noting that thus far, this book has probably seen the most number of different covers. The original artwork is my favourite, with a conga-line of monsters pacing out of the titular citadel, with a beastie I’ve come to call ‘Big Wooly’ at the front giving the audience a toothy grin. The second cover, which is the one I grew up with, features a big green tornado-type entity. And although the wizard publish copy has a third one, my copy is the Big Wooly one. I love this one the best.

My wizard is the weakest wizard in the land. He has a puny skill of 7 and a stamina of 14. I think the dice gods are mocking me. Guessing that I’m going to take a lot of damage, I take four Stamina spells (to heal my sorry butt), three Shield spells, one Strength spell, I also take two ESP spells in case I require the extra clues. And working from my memory of playing this game as a kid, I stock up on four Levitation spells, which I remember being very important in this particular adventure. I try to think of a name for my character, a name perfectly fitting for someone who has no skill, no genuine abilities, and who will contribute nothing of value to this escapade. I call him Rincewind.

Like anyone on a top-secret assassination mission going into an enemy castle to kill the lord, I decide to sneak into the castle under cover of moonlight, scaling one of the rear walls and… nah, just kidding, I walk right up to the main door and ask the guards to let me in! The guards here are awesome. One is an ape-dog, and the other is a dog-ape. I’m not sure which is which, but they’re clearly the result of one of Dire’s mad experiments in head-swapping. I must confess that if I were a mad wizard, I’d want a puppy with a gorilla’s head to guard my castle. I’d call him Pip.

The book gives me the chance of telling Pip that I’m a tradesman – this is kinda true, as assassination is a trade. “Hi, mind if I come in and brutally slaughter your master and all his servants?” It seems that Pip doesn’t take too kindly to that suggestion, as both guards attack. Given that Rincewind is the weakest and most inept being in the known world, he barely survives this combat. I suspect this will be a short adventure, folks!

The next section is pure comedy gold. I call for the guardsman, who comes running. He opens the door to the castle, while I hide in the shadows. I’m not sure what shadows, but… yeah, just ‘the shadows’. Anyway, the guardsman opens the door and sees the dead Ape-Dog and Dog-Ape, and rather than drawing his sword or raising a call for alarm, he instead stands still just long enough for me to knock him out as well.

I can only assume that I then drag all three bodies into ‘the shadows’, because leaving the in one big pile at the front of the castle seems a bit silly. Of course, I could just drag every dead body back here and leave them in one huge pile, just for fun. People could travel from across Titan to see the pile of dead bodies, it could be a tourist attraction. Although now that I think about it, this seems to be the kind of perfect tourist idea for people taking their holidays in Game of Thrones. “Come to Westeros, see the biggest pile of dead bodies in the world!”

Keeping with my intention of actually sneaking into the castle, I slip along the inner wall of the courtyard until I come to a wounded man. He is badly hurt, and will probably die unless I cast one of my precious Stamina spells on him. There’s no guarantee that he won’t attack me afterwards though. But eh, who wants to live forever (with the exception of Connor McLeod)? I cast a Stamina spell on him.

He thanks me, and tells me that he has been attacked by Ganjees, which I’m assuming is a type of goblin and not a river in India. Although given how heavily polluted the river is meant to be, I wouldn’t be surprised either way. To thank me for my kindness, he gives me a magic shield that will boost my skill up to a decent level… no, I’m kidding. He bites me. Yeah, I should have just left him in bleeding in the ground. The man staggers around, possessed like something out of one of the overlooked prequel movies to The Exorcist.

My stamina is low at this point, so I choose to throw a spell at him in order to avoid combat. From the list it gives me, the only one I have is ‘Shield’. So I throw a magic barrier between us and… the book tells me ‘Your spell had no effect’. It doesn’t tell me why it had no effect. It just didn’t work. So, the man bites me again, and I whack him out with the flat of my sword. I spend one of my few remaining Stamina spells to get back some of that health, and promptly drag the man’s dead body to the front of the main gates to be left in the pile there.

I continue to sneak along the inner wall of the courtyard, when the book asks me to test my luck to avoid falling into a giant pit. Okay, pause for a moment. What is a giant pit doing in the middle of a courtyard? Wouldn’t a good number of Dire’s minions end up falling into it? I just can’t imagine any reason that this pit would be here. Is it a crack in the foundation of the citadel that’s just grown to ridiculous degree? Surely Dire could just contract some builders to come in and fix it! Imagine, if you will, one of Balthus Dire’s lieutenants knocking on his door at the end of each day, handing him a report of how many of his troops he’d lost that day simply from them falling down a hole! Is this Dire’s idea of a massive joke to play on his troops? Is he just trolling them? If it were a latrine or something, I’d understand it. But it’s not, it’s just a giant pit that happens to have opened up in the middle of the courtyard of his citadel!

Right, enough about the hole. I eventually get to the doorway into the citadel’s main building, picking some berries off a nearby shrub as I do. The door itself is heavy, and I’m given two options. I can either knock on the door to call the guard to open it, or I can cast my only Strength spell and use that to work my way through it. Naturally, I don’t want to attract too much attention, so I spend my Strength spell. I take a few steps back, charge at the door… and take a stamina point of damage as I collide with it. The door doesn’t budge. Once again, Rincewind demonstrates just how inept and useless he is. The door is opened by a bipedal rhinoceros in plate armour. Rather than trying to impale me on its horn right away, it asks me for the password. I don’t have one, so I instead take a test of luck and try to convince him that I’m a travelling herbalist who was summoned by Dire. Amazingly, the guard believes me and lets me pass. I am now inside… the Citadel of Chaos!!

I head down the narrow hallway until I see some stairs leading down towards a door. I want to open this door, but it is locked. The book then gives me two options – to cast a Strength spell (I have none left), or to try to break down the door. I don’t want to do either, fearing that my attempt to break down the door will leave me transformed into a reddish smear on the wood, but I’m not given any other options to take, I need to try to break the door down. Amazingly, it breaks. Rawr, hulk smash.

I step into the room. It is completely barren except for a table. Floating above the table is a sleeping leprechaun. Oh great, it’s going to be one of those type of rooms. The moment I step in, I hear a catapult launching something at me, and I have to spend one of my remaining Shield spells in order to avoid being hit by the trap. Upon closer inspection, the object launched at me was not an arrow or a vial of acid or anything, but a simple tomato. I’ve wasted a Shield spell on avoiding being pelted with a tomato. I get the feeling that the book is now trying to actively make fun of me.

The Leprechaun now wakes up, introduces himself as O’Seamus (because of course that’s his name!), and offers to shake my hand. I’m given two options – I can either shake his hand, or chop his head off. I’m not given a logical third option, which would be to run away from the scary little bastard. So, hoping he won’t kill me outright with his evil Irish magics, I shake his hand. Mercifully, he only zaps me with Skill-draining lightning, glues my hand to a doll, and tells me a riddle. Did I ever tell you that I hate leprechauns, pixies and sprites? I don’t even bother trying to solve his riddle, because even if I did, I don’t trust that the little bastard wouldn’t give me the wrong answer anyway just to torment me. There are several doors out of the room, and I pick the one with a bronze handle.

As I step through it, I am blinded by a huge flash of light and some snarling monster attacks me. Having already cast my Strength spell, there’s nothing I can do while the monster attacks me, clawing at my leg, eventually closing its teeth around my throat… I then wake up, only to realise that the entire monster attack was simply an illusion created by O’Seamus! The book tells me that I feel the funny side of the joke, and start to laugh. No. No, I do not. I do not see the funny side to the joke, and any laughter is simply a side-effect of my urge to crush the leprechaun’s head beneath my boot. Nevertheless, for being ‘such a good sport’, he gives me a magic sword and a silver mirror. I leave, through the same door I intended to leave through, and if I ever see O’Seamus again I swear I’ll chop his nuts off.

The path leads down into the bowels of the citadel, into the caves beneath it. At the bank of an underground river (y’know, if that pit from earlier had been a latrine, it could have emptied downstream of here, making it all a bit more sensible) I see something quite curious. An old woman is washing clothes by the bank of the river, and my ESP tells me that she is the ghost of a woman. It seems that, in life, she was asked by Balthus Dire to finish his laundry, but she was late in doing so. As punishment, he burned her and her children to death, and cursed her spirit to forever wash clothes in a river under his citadel…. I mean, seriously, over-reacting much? “You have wronged me for the last time, washer woman!” Anyway, I try to sneak past this vengeful spirit, but she is filled with rage and lashes out, animating the clothing that she is washing. The clothes whip and snap at me, like jocks do to geeks in school gym class. To appease her, I give the spirit the silver mirror. I can’t imagine why she wants a silver mirror, but she seems content enough to leave me alone.

I press on through the caves, and eventually come to a door. Slipping through, I see a large stone table, and three treasure chests piled in the corner. The room also contains a large stone golem. Yeesh. I wanted what was in those chests. I wanted them badly. I don’t know what it was, but I had the strongest suspicion that it’d be very important. That’d be why they were guarded by a stone golem. And so in order to get those chests, I had to fight the golem. I charged up to full stamina with my spell, and drew my sword. During the fight, both myself and the golem traded blows pretty much equally. As the last round of combat came up, both myself and the golem were on 2 stamina points. That’s about as close as it can ever come. Sadly, the golem rolled highest, and swatted me down like a bug. Thus ended my adventures in the Citadel of Chaos. And want to know the funny bit? I didn’t use one levitation spell.

Citadel is a pretty fun book, the environment is a huge step up from Firetop Mountain. It’s still very simplistic, but not in a dumbed-down way, because the implementation of magic spells adds a whole new level to the book. It works very nicely, and gives an additional challenge as you try to determine what will be the most useful to stock up on.

Cause of death: Punched into paste by a golem.

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbuster hits of the era. Travel to Firetop Mountain, beat up a wizard and steal his money!

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!  

Before continuing, please be aware that all of this content is made possible by the goodwill and support of my backers on Patreon. If you enjoy the work on this site, please consider supporting the creation of more content like this by clicking the button.

Published the same year I was born, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was the first Fighting Fantasy book, and has had an incarnation in every version of the books. The original cover of this book showed the titular warlock as a gnarled old mage, whilst the later ones showed him as a younger man wielding the forces of chaos and destruction. This is Zagor, the warlock who would return twice more throughout the Fighting Fantasy series – in Return to Firetop Mountain and Legacy of Zagor, as well as starring in the spin-off novels The Zagor Chronicles, appearing in two board games (based on Warlock and Legacy, respectively) and several video game versions.

In short, Zagor is the face of the Fighting Fantasy franchise. And was also my first online internet username. But the question here is “Can I kill him and steal his treasure?” That’s the only real storyline we have to go on. Zagor isn’t raising an army, he’s not cursed a village with moon dogs, he’s just happily sitting in his mountain, chilling, drinking a cup of hot tea and watching Twilight Zone reruns on the telly. And we, like traditional dungeon-crawling adventurers, are going to break into his home, beat up the old man, and nick everything. We did that a lot in classic Dungeons and Dragons, you see. I miss those days… Anyway, on with the show!

Firetop mountain is so named because of the red rock deposit at the top, not because it’s a volcano. Which is a shame, because being set inside a volcano would have added a whole new level of adventure in it. Probably not a good idea, because my stamina roll was quite low at only 16 – but my luck score was very lucky at 12, with my skill an even 10. I slipped into the cavern entrance of the mountain, and took a turn which lead me to a guard post. The guard, a goblin, was sleeping quite happily. Wish I could get away with that when I was at work!

Slipping past the guard, I entered a room which contained another sleeping goblin. I managed to grab a small box from the room, which contained a couple gold coins – not bad, given that the book’s instructions didn’t mention that I had any to start with! The box also contained a mouse, which I didn’t keep. How odd. But in the second room I entered, which was otherwise empty, the box contained a snake. Not a giant snake, just a regular snake, which I killed with only one hit. I wonder what kind of person keeps a snake in a box. Does the box have air holes? Do they open it to feed the snake every day? It seems like such a difficult way to keep a pet.

Either way, the snake was ‘guarding’ a key, which I took. I remembered that you need to collect a good number of keys in order to get to the good ending of this book. Hoping that this key was one of them, I pocketed it and left the room. I investigated another room, in which two orcs were singing badly. Seems they were drunk. The book didn’t offer me the choice of joining them, sadly, so I just killed them. Under the table in this room, there was another box which contained instructions on how to cast the Dragonfire spell, which could easily slay a dragon. Given that there’s a dragon on the cover for this book, I figured this was a good discovery!

My next room contained a raving lunatic. Kinda like when I was living in university student dorms, I suppose. Anyway, I figured that he was a prisoner, because he wasn’t an orc. So I tried to calm him down, which was very useful. Once he was calm, he told me that I had there was a trap further down the tunnel which I could solve by pulling the right-most lever. Which is quite useful, and may even save me from what might otherwise be an instant-death choice, possibly.

I venture on, and in the next room I enter, I find an armoury. You have to remember though that this is an orc armoury, so it’s full of pointy sticks and so on. But I do find a rather nice shield, which will let me take less damage if I roll a 6 after being injured in combat. Rather unlikely it’ll be of much use, but it’s better than nothing – however, in order to take it with me, I need to leave behind one of my other pieces of equipment. Okay then, I’ll leave behind… my previous, crappier shield! Wow, difficult choice, that.

Leave room, walk down tunnel, enter new room. This room contains two goblins who are busy torturing a dwarf. The book then gives me the option to run in and take part in torturing the dwarf!! I am so, so tempted to choose this option. I really want to. If it had been a Gnome, I’d definitely have taken the choice. One thing that World of Warcraft has taught me is that Gnomes are only good for torturing, throwing long distances, and the occasional barbeque. But anyway, I decide not to torture the poor dwarf, and kill the two goblins, like a good hero. And in reward, I am given cheese! I have the cheese!!

Leaving the room, I eventually come across the trap that the crazy man warned me about. I pull the right-most lever, and a portcullis raises, allowing me to continue. I then make a number of choices between turning west, north and other directions, which I didn’t bother to note down, because that makes for the most boring playthroughs ever, “First I went north, then I went east, then I went east again”, sod that! So I ran around blindly for a bit. Until I ran into a crazy barbarian.

I don’t know what the barbarian was doing in the dungeon, but once I killed him, I discovered he was carrying a mallet and several sticks of wood with pointy ends. My working theory is that he’s a vampire hunter. It’s a shame I had to kill him, because I’d have been quite interested to find out how a barbarian had got into the line of vampire hunting. Maybe he was the latest in a long line of vampire hunters. Maybe he had trained under Buffy Summers or the Frog Brothers or something. This would be a very interesting story, but sadly it will never be revealed, because I killed the barbarian. See, violence is never the best answer.

The next room is a lavish portrait room, with paintings on the wall. I look at them, and recognize one of them as the legendary Zagor himself. This is a bad idea, because the portrait immediately starts to cast a spell on me. Hmph, wish they’d stop doing that kind of thing. The book asks if I have anything that could stop Zagor’s spells.

Sadly, I don’t (unless the cheese can be used for this – maybe wizards are lactose-intolerant?) so I flee the room, and quickly come to another room which I’ll call ‘the garbage room’. It contains some driftwood, which I have the choice of taking. Oh yeah, a hunk of wood will be so useful, I’m sure – I leave it behind, and try to find some rope instead. Rope is always useful. Except when it comes to life and tries to kill you. This rope does. So I chop it up.

Finally, we come to the river. I’m a wee bit worried, because I’ve only found one key so far, and the river kinda marks the mid-point of the adventure. Also I remember that on the other side of the river lurks the dreaded labyrinth. Anyway, I play nice and ring the bell for the ferryman. I have two gold coins from the earlier rooms all ready to pay, but it seems that the ferryman decides he’s going to charge me extra.

I assume he thinks I’ve got the word ‘sucker’ printed on my head. I’m all ready to teach him a lesson with my sword, when he changes into a giant salivating wererat. Yeah, I didn’t see that coming, either. And to make matters worse, the book won’t give me the option to tempt the wererat with any of the cheese I found earlier! Pah, useless cheese. Anyway, I kill the wererat and decide to commandeer the boat for myself! On the opposite side of the river, I approach a door, when I am suddenly knocked unconscious. I never do find out what struck me, but when I wake up, I am in a room with four zombies.

It’s a bit of a gamble, and I realise my chance of killing all four of them are slim, but I don’t hesitate and leap to attack. Sure enough, I am able to barely scrape through, having killed all four zombies. My stamina is running low, so a quick glug of my magic stamina potion quickly gets me back up to shape. I search the nearby corpses and find some gold, and a silver crucifix. Hmm, a lot of vampire-related items. They come in very useful though, as the very next room contains a vampire. Yep, the next chamber is a crypt, and from a nearby coffin stalks a vampire. Boy, it’s lucky I found those stakes earlier! Even more lucky, because, well…

According to this book, I am the most inept and yet the luckiest vampire hunter ever. You see, as the book narrates it, I approach the vampire with the stake. The vampire backs away. I trip and fall. The stake goes flying out of my hands. By sheer luck, the stake hurtles through the air, right into the vampire’s chest, piercing its heart. I’m not even joking here. This actually happened. Feeling utterly amazed at my luck, I find the vampire’s coffin contains a book (I’m not told what it is) and some y-shaped sticks. Maybe the vampire had an interest in dowsing.

The following area of the dungeon was half-completed, and I managed to see some enchanted digging tools constructing new tunnels, all the while singing happily. I think I’ll have to make sure not to pack mushrooms in my provisions in future. Anyway, I stumble onwards, almost tripping over a ghoul on the way. The ghoul can be quite tricky as he can paralyse you with its touch, but I’m able to handle it without too much difficulty. And so I journey into the LABYRINTH OF ZAGOR!!

This part of the adventure is amazingly frustrating to try to explain. It’s just as it sounds, a maze. Anyway, I won’t bother to document the actual tunnels of the maze, it’s really the sort of thing that’s best to solve by making a map as you go along. It’s pretty impressive that something like this could be included in a text-based format like a book, but still, it’s very time-consuming and is definitely the low point of the adventure. I’ll just describe the more interesting rooms I come across.

I manage to find a room full of dwarves who are playing cards, and through the graces of my high luck score I am able to earn some extra gold without needing to cheat. The next room I find is very appropriate for a labyrinth, as it contains the ominous minotaur. I kill him, but he does manage to deal quite a bit of damage. And I manage to acquire my second key! I’m sure I’ve lost any chance of getting enough of the correct keys by this stage in the game, but its still nice to have this.

I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, oh wait I’ve found a dragon.

Excellent. The book asks me if I remember the magic spell from earlier. That’s quite interesting as you can see that this ‘do you remember’ question will later develop into the code-word system. Without further ado, I hurtle the spell at the dragon with all the efficiency of Lina Inverse’s Dragonslave spell! The tunnel leads at long last into the warlock’s study. I try to sneak in, yet the warlock notices me and prepares to attack. With my amazing memory, I remember that the wizard’s power lies in his desk of magic cards (and y’know, I may have even forgot about that if he hadn’t been playing with them when I walked in!), so I grab the cards and set them alight. The warlock is now relatively easy prey, and I cut him down without too much trouble.

And, like many thousands of adventurers before me, I fall at the final hurdle. I have only two of the keys needed to unlock the warlock’s treasure, and so I fall to the floor in tears. This, my friends, is how the vast majority of Warlock of Firetop Mountain playthroughs end. Warlock is definitely a classic, for all the good and bad that entails. It feels very much like a classic dungeon hack, and doesn’t have the stronger flavour of later Fighting Fantasy books.

The combat is relatively easy, the maze is more tedious than challenging, and the difficulty in finding the right keys to unlock the warlock’s treasure is the stuff of urban horror stories. Your tastes may vary on the artwork, for me it’s very nostalgic and I’m quite fond of a lot of the illustrations. The trick to the game is to play through it many times, note down where you discover the keys each time, and that will ensure you can get through the game with the best ending.

My copy of the book contains an advert for the Fighting Fantasy fan club, which as best I can tell is no longer in operation, and adverts for two rather interesting books – a biography on JRR Tolkien, and a study on Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ books. Definitely fantasy-theme, but non-fiction books are a curious choice for adverts in this book. Oh well.

Cause of death: Sturdy chest locks.