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Literature / The Citadel of Chaos

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Now who is that black hairy monster again?

The Citadel of Chaos is the second entry in the Fighting Fantasy line of Gamebooks. Written by Steve Jackson, co-founder of Fighting Fantasy with Ian Livingstone.

You are a young wizard sent to defeat Balthus Dire, an evil warlord and sorcerer who intends to invade the Vale of Willow. You infiltrate his Citadel of Chaos atop Craggen Rock.

Although this is the second adventure of the Fighting Fantasy series, it has the notable novelty of the playing protagonist being a wizard with a number of magical spells at his command, which do not impede his fighting prowess (unlike the later series by Steve Jackson, Sorcery!).


The Citadel of Chaos provides examples of:

  • All There in the Manual:
    • The three hags in the kitchen serving as Balthus Dire's cooks aren't named in the book, but supplementary materials from the Fighting Fantasy magazines reveals their names to be Zanbrok, Adreeveux and Nundyl. And they're a trio of sisters from Dree, featured in the later book Creature of Havoc, forming some nice Canon Welding within the series.
    • The Calacorm jailer (which you can trick with an illusion spell) is named Snikrul. Also Balthus have a legion of Calacorm guards that doesn't appear in the book itself.
  • Attack of the Monster Appendage: The barrow in the courtyard houses a gigantic tentacle that emerges from underground and attacks you, trying to drag you into its lair. Even if you win the combat, you don't find out what's at the other end of the appendage.
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  • Beast Man: Balthhus Dire have a number of beast-people in his army, including the rhino-man guard, the Lizard Folk-esque Calacorm, and of course the Clawbeast.
  • Big Bad: Balthus Dire, the warlord threatening the entirety of the Vale of Willow, and you must prevent his invasion by assasinating him.
  • Call-Back: A recursive example, but the 2002 reprint of Citadel Of Chaos features the hydra on its cover — which resembles the hydra on the cover of Seas of Blood.
  • Covers Always Lie: The original cover art is infamous in the gamebook community. Not only is it frequently derided as the worst/ugliest one in the Fighting Fantasy series (artist "Emmanuel" had a very short-lived career afterwards, and it was one of the very few covers to be completely redone in the series' original Puffin Books run), but most of the cover is taken by a weird black-haired monster that is not easily identifiable. Many readers assume he is the Clawbeast that is summoned by Balthus in the endgame; however, Clawbeasts have been depicted a couple of times in the franchise and hardly look like this (one German edition even depicts the Clawbeast on the cover as a giant housecat!). In the newest editions, it shows the Hydra or the Ganjees.
  • Deadly Game: There's a games room which seems designed to either kill or horribly main it's participants, which you can try your luck in. One of the games is called "Knifey-Knifey", a Russian Roulette played using daggers where you and another contender takes turn stabbing yourselves with six knives on a wheel, five which are fake - whomever rolls a 6 dies (if it's you, your quest is over). Another game is a Grenade Hot Potato called "Ruddlestones" where you and a few contenders passed a stone among each other, one containing an explosion spell that deals severe SKILL and STAMINA damage if it happens to blow up in your hands.
  • Do Not Touch the Funnel Cloud: A female air-elemental monster roams the courtyard and you have to trick your way past her (since you cannot fight a living tornado).
  • The Dreaded: The Ganjees. Their page in the library's bestiary was torn off and the Rhino-Man guard will freak out and assault you if you say that name in his presence. All of this for a good reason...
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The entirety of this adventure takes place in a single night, with your showdown against Balthus happening around dawn.
  • Gonk: The butler is drawn by Russ Nicholson to look really freaky and ugly. Given the rest of Dire's staff it's entirely likely he's not supposed to be human at all.
  • Hydra Problem: Opting to pick a fight with the hydra using only your sword will lead to this trope. You'll either get your arm chewed by the hydra, or die instantly like its many previous victims...
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The citadel's kitchen have three hags roasting a dwarf, their next meal.
  • Impossibly Cool Weapon: The Myriad. A small hand-held machine that can turn into anything. Like a grappling hook or a Sun Sword. And that's when it is broken.
  • In Vino Veritas: If you drink rosé wine offered by the Black Elf, it will be revealed to be a Truth Serum, and so he will question you, find out about your true intentions and attack you!
  • MacGuffin Guardian: The Gark's room contains a comb you need to proceed, a Golem in the dungeons watches over three treasure chests which actually lead to nothing but trouble and the way to Balthus' quarters forces you to pass by a Hydra and the deadly Ganjees.
  • Magic Knight:
    • This being only the second book, the idea of there being tradeoffs to a PC knowing magic hadn't entered the mechanics yet. As a result it's possible to have a character with a legendary Skill of 12 and impressive magical powers at the same time.
    • Balthus Dire as well, who is both a powerful sorcerer and more than a match for the average player character in melee combat.
  • Magic Potion: A literal one, you can obtain a Potion of Magik which boosts your spell count by two points.
  • Mirror Match: Balthus will summon a double of you to fight. However, if this happens, the game is Unwinnable as he insta-kills you after.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: The first enemies you meet are a Dog-Ape and an Ape-Dog, who are a gorilla with a dog's head and a dog with a gorilla's head, respectively.
  • More Deadly Than the Male: While Balthus will gloat, toy with you, and even engage in a straight-up sword fight, his wife will just blast you with unstoppable magic unless you manage to distract her.
  • Morton's Fork: There are a few places where you will fail no matter what choice you pick, such as when Balthus offers to let you join him - if you refuse he stabs you, if you accept he brainwashes you.
  • Multiple Head Case: The Calacorm, a two-headed reptilian humanoid creature.
  • Non Standard Game Over: Most of the bad endings involve your hero dying but you can also end up as The Dragon to Balthus Dire. During your combat with him at the climax of the book, Dire is impressed by your power and asks you to join him. If you pretend to do so (intending to trick him into lowering his guard), he will use his magic to brainwash you into being genuinely loyal. If you get at this point, the game is Unwinnable anyway.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The Ganjees. You never directly see them, except for a sudden wisp-like face in the dark, but their presence alone will devastate your stats and, if you're not prepared, will kill you.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: In the citadel's underground caverns, you can come across the ghost of a washerwoman washing clothes in a stream. As it turns out, Balthus had her - and her children - put to death for being late with cleaning up his laundry. Offend the ghost and you find out her laundry holds the spirits of her children, who then comes to life Living Clothes-style and attack you.
  • Our Monsters Are Weird: The Wheelies: a trio of humanoids with flat, circular bodies that move around by cartwheeling and can attack with throwing knives and blowguns.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": You need a secret code to enter Balthus's headquarters. Where do you find it? Why, in a library book that tells the history of the fortress. It simply states the code as if it was no big deal at all.
  • Shout-Out: The Hydra and the Golden Fleece are both nods to the Jason and the Argonauts film, that Steve Jackson will also use as inspiration for Sorcery!.
  • Spiders Are Scary: The Man-Spider in a jar. It is a disgusting, human-headed spider that scares/disgusts anyone you show him to. The Ganjees and Balthus will turn it against you if you try to use it against them. And its bite is deadly.
  • Spiritual Predecessor: You can consider this book one for Sorcery!.
  • Squishy Wizard: Very averted, with both the protagonist and Balthus. The hero can roll normal stats like any other warrior hero in the series, and Balthus looks more like a barbarian fighter than a sorcerer. You can skip the magic stuff and face him directly in a sword fight.
  • Trial-and-Error Gameplay: While a mainstay of the Fighting Fantasy series, this book is especially filled with it. Many encounters let you choose between multiple items or spells to use. Typically, most choices waste the chosen resource and/or hurt you, and there's usually no way to figure out in advance which one actually works.
  • Vain Sorceress: Balthus's wife. If you offer her a comb she'll be distracted, allowing you to make off with the Golden Fleece.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: There's a nursery-like room containing three creatures that may be Orc children. One of the options involve murdering them, despite them being harmless and defenceless. There's no direct penalty for doing so, other than the PC feeling "uncomfortable" about his actions.
  • Weakenedby The Light: Balthus Dire just dies when hit by sunlight. Too bad the windows are covered with nothing more than curtains.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: You can defeat Balthus easily by ripping out the curtains of his room and have him killed by sunlight.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: The Calacorm is very scared of mice.