Monday, 24 March 2008

#5 - Deathtrap Dungeon

I've always had fond memories of book #6, perhaps in a large degree because of the fact when I was in third form (aged 12) I received 17/20 (top mark in the class, by the way) for a short story I wrote which was largely a rewrite of the introduction to Deathtrap Dungeon. Or was it my rewrite of Forest Of Doom? Ah bugger. Anyway, the singular goal and incredibly varied situations made this book one to revisit over and over, perhaps then not entirely suited to a single attempt, as this blog is 'meant' to be...

I rolled some perfect luck and stamina, which was just as well, as I was entering the tournament with the fighting skills of an animate wet paper bag. It probably didn't help that according to the introduction, I spent the week or so before entering the dungeon in a state of Bacchanalian indulgence, and had to pass through Blacksand. I've been killed, or nearly, by both of those things so far in the series if I recall correctly.

So there's a dungeon, created as a tourism investment, no one's ever escaped, riches on offer etc etc. What I don't get is that everyone in town turns out to watch the bounty hunters enter the maze, while none to date have ever returned - it seems kind of boring, doesn't it? Annually turning out to watch a bunch of doomed delusionals wander into a cave? All the action happens on the inside, after all.

And what action - the titular Deathtrap Dungeon is chocked with danger, disaster awaits at almost every turn. One website I came across in my brief post-death (oops, gave away the ending there...) research stated there were something like 31 possible instantaneous ways to die - meaning every time you look up a new page/paragraph, there's literally a one-in-13 chance you're gonna die. I quickly realised the book contains so many random deaths for no apparent reason - "You turned left! Bad choice. You die," kind of things - I took a little liberty in re-choosing which direction in which to walk. Not something I've done at all so far, but Deathtrap Dungeon so lives up to its billing, it'd be impossible to review after one dip without doing so.

Anyway. Highlights? Okay, well, on entering, you come across six boxes, one for each of the competitors in this year's competition, including yourself. Your first decision pretty much is should you open the one with your name on it or not? The book makes it out to be pretty dramatic... till you realise there's no option to check out the boxes already opened, and whether footprints healthily led away from them.

Continuing my FF habit of eating/drinking pretty much anything I come across, I drank some water I found in a bamboo stick. It's not like I'm going to get the chance to do that in real life now is it? Without much subtlety, or planning, the book then checked whether I'd drunk the bamboo water on the very next page I turned to... see what I mean? Brutal.

At one point in the maze I was asked whether I wanted to pick up a goblet. Now, at this point in the series, there was no penalty for carrying insane loads of trinkets and shit. I can't remember if there ever was a limit, but it seems pretty silly to say no, doesn't it? Rarely will an item you're carrying ever be the death of you in FF.

Later in the book, I came within a stamina point of dying, during a fight, while abseiling from a giant Buddha-esque statue... a scene which contains one of the book's 50/50 death points, which nothing you've rolled or discovered can save you from. Annoying, cause you probably need one of those eye-gems to finish the book, given the level of detail the sequence entails, though I can't really recall.

I eventually died while hanging out and forming an 'alliance' with a fellow contestant. My death involved a pit I shouldn't have tried to jump, but a quick check of the alternative scenarios (as I explained above) showed that not even the 'right' decision or rolls could have saved me - another random sequence which may mirror the reality of the situation quite well (whatever reality there could be), but is a bitch for gameplay.

All in all, it didn't quite spark with me in the same way as I remembered it - perhaps then I was less put-off by instant deaths and less averse to 'reloads' from arbitrary save points (the last page number I could remember where I was alive!).

Perhaps Trial Of Champions, the sequel-in-spirit, will survive the past 15 years a bit better.

My copy is very much identical to the one pictured above, but with the Puffin branding. There were still only seven published at the time. I know this doesn't mean nothing to no one, but I'm totally looking forward to the day I get up to whichever one of mine it is that is the earliest with the super-flashy logo and stuff with Jackson and Livingstone's names, and the actual author acknowledged on page 185 or something.


Anonymous said...

"Rarely will an item you're carrying ever be the death of you in FF."
After a certain point (possibly book 19, definitely no later than book 23), they start to get nasty about such things, and quite a few books include items which will, if taken with you, result in certain death at a later stage. There are some particularly nasty ones in books 26 and 28, which get you killed at the moment you encounter the main villain.

Dan said...

Book 23's Midnight Rogue, isn't it? I remember buying that one second hand as a kid, and loved it - particularly the ending, haha. I have to get that one soon - it's not in my box!

I will keep that in mind though. No, I won't pick up the portrait of the evil wizard's ex-wife...

TheWycliffe said...

Yeah, just finished Curse of the Mummy and an item was the death of me :( Sneaky bastards, changing the unwritten rules and whatnot.

It's too bad you don't have Curse of the Mummy as I'm sure that would be a hilarious review. I was quite frustrated reading it. If I come across another copy, I will let you know.

Unknown said...

This book drove me crazy as a youth, and was the first book that actually made a complete lie out of the whole "no matter how low your initial dice rolls, you still have a change to succeed" rubbish.

You could find out the 'correct' path, but still fail many, many times due to the numerous ridiculously hard fights.

Having said that, it is certainly true that the book successfully attempts to create an internal continuity, as you can encounter all the other competitors during your travels, and it does to an extent feel as if you are in an actual maze / dungeon.

The problem is that, after a while, the atmosphere wears thin, and the mechanical repetition of dice rolls in an attempt to 'beat' the book can be extraordinarily boring.

Stalin Brando said...

I explain the sordid truth behind Deathtrap Dungeon on my blog:

- Stalin Brando

Peter said...

@Stalin Brando
You sir are completely insane in more ways than I can even begin to explain.

I shudder at the thought that you may be serious about your "truth".

foadiron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
foadiron said...

DD is aburdly difficult, that's for sure. In fact it's one of the toughest books of all. Unlike some of the later books though, it is still a lot of fun, so much so that you find yourself forgiving its laughable difficulty level.

A tip: I am a firm believer that you really need a skill of 11 for this one, not to mention very high luck and stamina too. I played the book inside out and really struggled to get through on a skill of even 10.