By Duncan Saunders
As an 8 year old boy in the 1980s, I went to the school “Book Bus” to spend my pocket money on a new book. It took one look at the cover of Deathtrap Dungeon - the many eyes monster lying in a pool of acidic slime – and the choice was made. There's an old proverb about not judging a book by its cover but in this case the judgement was absolutely right. The book was everything that the cover promised it would be.
The basic idea is great, and makes a welcome change from the usual fantasy fare of defeating an evil wizard / dragon or finding a magical artefact. The background section builds tension nicely on first reading, meaning that by the time I reached my first choice paragraph I was genuinely nervous about making the wrong choice.
The premis of the book also solves two common problems with fantasy stories / games; there is a logical reason for a huge variety of monsters, puzzles and traps to be mixed together in one location and there's also a logical reason for the means to get past each one of them to be found close to the hazard itself. Surely no Master Wizard would leave the only magical item capable of killing him within easy reach in his own citadel? No such problems here; it's all part of the test.
Some of my favourite monsters and encounters from the whole of the Fighting Fantasy series are found in this book. The Bloodbeast and the Pit Fiend are legendary. However, here is the book's one big weakness. Having played this book to completion over a few night shifts, I soon discovered that an initial skill of 7 or 8 would not be enough to get me through the last few encounters. Even 9 or 10 makes it unlikely; as such, there were a few attempts where I used that attempt as a “mapping game”, to complete my map of the dungeon, knowing that I couldn't hope to defeat the Bloodbeast and the Manticore fairly. It gives you a great sense that things are building to a finale but it's very frustrating to get past everything just to lose to the Manticore again.
However, it's a minor quibble (and it's a quick enough job to give the dice a nudge until you get a 5 or 6!) This book has legendary status and fully deserves it. If you haven't played it before, do yourself a favour and get hold of a copy.