Thursday, October 22, 2015

Island of the Lizard King - Attempt 1

Can you save the young men of Oyster Bay from the evil Lizard Men?

Kidnapped by a vicious race of Lizard Men from Fire Island, the young men of Oyster Bay face a grim future of slavery, starvation and a lingering death.  Their master will be the mad and dangerous Lizard King, who holds sway over his land of mutants by the strange powers of black magic and voodoo.  Will you risk all in an attempt to save the prisoners?

Island of the Lizard King, written by our old mate Ian Livingstone and illustrated by newcomer to the series Alan Langford, is the seventh Fighting Fantasy gamebook.  I've mentioned before that I've labelled the first three books in the series (The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, The Citadel of Chaos and The Forest of Doom) as the Original Fighting Fantasy Trilogy.  There's a certain sense of newness, discovery and just plain weirdness that marks them out from their predecessors.  What I haven't mentioned before is what I call the Second Fighting Fantasy Trilogy, which begins with City of Thieves, continues into Deathtrap Dungeon and culminates in Island of the Lizard King.  It's an unbroken run of three Ian Livingstone books, where each book begins in the location of the previous book, and it takes the first tentative steps in establishing that the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks operate in a consistent world.

I never owned Island of the Lizard King as a kid.  If I wanted to read it, I had to borrow it from a friend, so I don't have the same level of familiarity that I had with books 5 and 6 (not that it helped me much with Deathtrap Dungeon).  It's never been one of my particular favourites.  As I remember it, it's pure baseline Ian Livingstone, with very little deviation from his standard formula.  It's a formula that I find entertaining, though, so I expect to have some fun regardless.

The book begins with the hero residing in Fang, the setting of Deathtrap Dungeon, the previous book in the series.  It's quite unlikely that he's the same fellow that won the Trial of Champions, though, as there's no mention of the 10,000 gold pieces he should be carrying.  Unless he blew the lot gambling on knifey-knifey, which seems unlikely.

Said hero decides to journey south to Oyster Bay, a quiet fishing village, only to discover that the men-folk have been taken as slaves by the Lizard Men of Fire Island.  Fire Island was once a prison colony run by one Prince Olaf, using Lizard Men as guards.  When Olaf decided that the whole venture just wasn't worth it and pulled out, the Lizard Men took over the island under the auspices of their self-proclaimed Lizard King.  The Lizard Men want more slaves to work the island's gold mines, so they've been raiding coastal villages, and that's where our hero comes in.

Not everyone from the village was taken, though: the hero's old buddy Mungo is there, planning to sail to Fire Island alone to rescue his buddies.  The hero agrees to join him, and thus the adventure begins.

The rules in this book are as basic as it gets for Fighting Fantasy.  It's all the usual stuff: Skill, Stamina, Luck, ten provisions, and a choice of three potions.  The hero begins with a sword, some leather armour, and a backpack - he's definitely not packed for a trip to a tropical island.

I rolled a Skill of 11, a Stamina of 14 and a Luck of 11.  This is a great character, despite the low Stamina.  I remember that this book has more than a few tough, unavoidable combats.  Even so, I feel like my character stands a good chance of completing the book.

Mungo and I set sail on his small boat, and as we travelled Mungo told me how his father (a circus strongman) died in Deathtrap Dungeon.  You may recall that, during my own attempts to complete Deathtrap Dungeon, one of my characters had his Skill score reduced to -1, and got torn to shreds by Flying Guardians.  I've retroactively decided that that was Mungo's dad.  R.I.P. Mungo Sr, forever in our hearts.

I'm not sure Mungo is wearing any undies.

(I like Mungo.  He's rather lovable, and nothing seems to dampen his spirits.  Surely nothing bad will happen to such a positive individual.)

Eventually we reached Fire Island, and landed on a beach at the eastern tip of the island.  From there I had the choice of climbing rocks to the left, or climbing rocks to the right.  (Already the signs are here that this book isn't going to be of the same calibre as Deathtrap Dungeon.  In both books the first meaningful choice is whether to go left or right, but Deathtrap Dungeon has little details like footprints to help the reader come to a decision.  This book provides no guidance at all.)

Scrambling over the rocks to the left, we emerged on a golden beach with an abandoned hut at the far end.  I was eager to investigate the hut, so Mungo and I crossed the beach.  It was to prove a fatal decision.  As we walked over the beach, a Giant Crab rose out of the sand and grabbed Mungo in a pincer.  I decided to help Mungo (he's just too damn lovable to be left to die).  The Crab was tough (Skill 10, Stamina 11), and reduced me to 6 Stamina before I was able to kill it.

It has a mouth.

I wasn't quick enough to save Mungo, however.  The Crab's pincer had crushed him to death, though he had time to deliver a final speech: "A lot of use I've been.  Make sure you get the Lizard King for me, won't you?"  Cheerful to the end.  He's not wrong, though: he bloody well was useless!  I buried Mungo in the sand, marking his grave with his sword and consigning him to the standard-issue fate reserved for all gamebook sidekicks.

(I have to give some mild praise to Ian here for putting such a tough battle right at the start of the book.  It's an instant signifier that you'll need a high Skill score to win, and serves to weed out the characters that just aren't strong enough.  If there absolutely have to be unavoidable combats with enemies of Skill 10+, I'd prefer there to be one at the beginning rather than waiting until the end.)

The hut was littered with broken furniture, but under a rug I discovered a trapdoor.  Unable to resist my natural curiosity, I opened the trapdoor and found a recess beneath that contained a wooden box.  Inside the box was a corked jug and a note.  The note was from a fellow named Baskin, who had come to the island seeking solitude, but left once the Lizard Men showed up (so they're not native to the island).  The note also told me that the jug contained a potion that would protect me from the poisonous plants native to Fire Island.  With no reason to disbelieve the note, I downed the potion and ate some provisions (restoring my Stamina to 10, and leaving me with 9 provisions).

I followed an old goat track up the side of a cliff, and by the time I reached the top it was dusk.  After an uneventful night's sleep I plowed forth into the jungle.  It was slow going, and I had to use my sword to cut my way through.  Eventually I came to a great tree, and decided to take a rest.  A sweet smell surrounded me, and I started to feel drowsy.  As I was nodding off, a vine lowered itself from the branches above and looped around my neck.  I was being choked to death, and needed to Test My Luck to see if my sword was in reach.  It was, and I was able to use it to cut myself free.  The vine had severely injured my neck though, causing me to lose 1 point of Skill and 2 points of Stamina (leaving me with Skill 10 and Stamina 8).

As I pressed on, I started to feel as though I was being watched, and soon enough three dark-skinned men stepped onto the trail ahead of me.  They were dressed in furs and wielding clubs, and all three had shrunken heads attached to their belts.  The Headhunters attacked me one at a time, but I showed off my prowess by defeating all of them without taking a single wound.  (One of the unfortunate aspects of the series having been written in the 1980s is that you get portrayals of native people like the one above.  There's nothing malicious intended, I'm sure; it's far more likely that Ian was using tropes drawn from various books and movies he enjoyed.  Those tropes come from an uncomfortable place, though, and Island of the Lizard King is one of the worst FF books in this regard.)

The Headhunters had some bananas and coconuts, which I devoured (restoring my Stamina to 9).  I climbed a nearby tree to see if I could locate their village, and could see some smoke rising from the south-west.  After climbing back down I decided to head north-west to avoid the smoke (and hopefully the Headhunters' village).

Struggling through the jungle, I encountered a skeleton on the ground.  Lying nearby was a hand-axe and a coil of rope, and I took both.

Further along I noticed a crude platform halfway up one of the trees, with a vine hanging down to the ground.  I started climbing up, but an old man popped his head over the side of the platform and told me to go away.  I ignored him and continued to climb, so the old bugger started pelting me with coconuts (reducing my Stamina to 8).  Once I reached the top, the old man was nervously holding a bamboo staff, ready to defend himself.  I didn't want to offer him provisions (mostly because he'd been throwing his own food at my head), so I tried to wrest his staff away from him.  The old man dropped his staff and clambered higher into the tree, where I was unable to follow.  I shrugged my shoulders, climbed back down, and continued on my way.

Along the way I was randomly attacked by a Giant Dragonfly.   It hit me twice before I was able to kill it (reducing my Stamina to 4).  (This is the thing I hate the most about the way Ian designs gamebooks: unavoidable, meaningless combats.  They irk me.)

Close to the Dragonfly's corpse I saw a rotting log with a large clump of fungus growing on it.  The inexplicable urge to eat the fungus came over me, but I resisted.  Instead I ate another provision (restoring my Stamina to 8), before continuing through the jungle.

Veering to the west, I came to a clearing with a large green crystal in the centre.  I touched the crystal, and a warm healing glow radiated through my body (restoring my Stamina to 11).  Thinking that it might be a good idea to take some of the magic crystal with me, I tried to chip some off with my sword.  No, not the hand-axe I was carrying that would have been far better suited to the task.  I used my sword, and it snapped in half (reducing my Skill to 8).  Armed now with only half a sword, I left the clearing.

Once more I started hacking my way through the jungle (I don't feel so bad about using my sword for the task now that it's been snapped in half).  Before I could react, I found myself surprised by six Pygmies, all aiming blowpipes at me.

Yeah, it gets worse.

I tried talking to them, but I wasn't able to speak their language.  They indicated through gestures that they wanted me to give them something.  Given that I had some strange aversion to using the thing, I decided to give them my hand-axe.  The Pygmies were very pleased with the gift, seemingly regarding it as some sort of religious artifact.  (Christ, can we get this encounter over with so I don't have to write about it anymore?)  Feeling audacious, I asked for something in return.  The Pygmies were amused by my request, and handed me some nuts and berries.  I ate them gratefully, and they restored my Stamina to 13.  A noise from the jungle startled the Pygmies into flight, and I was relieved to be able to continue my journey.

The trees thinned out and the ground grew softer, and soon I found myself at the edge of a large swamp.  A small, humanoid creature ran past me, moving easily across the marsh.  I called out to it, and realised that it was a Marsh Hopper, a creature that pretends to lead unwary victims safely through a swamp, only to lure them into the lair of a carnivorous predator. 

I decided to follow the Marsh Hopper for a time, struggling to keep up.  The Marsh Hopper turned south, and I decided to follow it for a little longer.  It turned out to be a bad choice, as a huge two-headed Hydra rose out of the mire to attack.

The Hydra wasn't excessively powerful (Skill 9, Stamina 9), but it had two heads that attacked me simultaneously.  I downed my Potion of Fortune before the fight began (raising my Luck to 11), and set about spamming my Luck score in order to defeat the Hydra.  I was able to kill one head, but the double attacks wore me down.  I wasn't strong enough to defeat the second, and my adventure ended in the swamps as I was devoured by the Hydra.

As usually happens when I play a gamebook that I haven't read for a while, I fell afoul of my own curiosity.  I should always remember that, in any given situation in Fighting Fantasy, there is but one positive option to choose.  Once I'd been healed by the crystal, I should have known that chipping it was a bad idea.  Still, I wanted to see what would happen anyway.  It's a curse.

Then, of course, there was the Marsh Hopper.  I remembered the encounter, and knew that the best thing to do was follow it for a while before veering off on my own.  I followed too long, and paid the price.  I'll know better next time.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Exploring Titan 5: Deathtrap Dungeon

After five books and a spin-off, I've finally reached the point that got me started writing these "Exploring Titan" articles in the first place: the creation of the Fighting Fantasy world.  The first five books (minus Starship Traveller, of course) would eventually be pulled into a unified setting, but at the time that they were released each one was a distinct entity, and there were no explicit links between them.  It's with Deathtrap Dungeon that the books begin to draw together.

That said, the links aren't a large part of the book.  They're pretty much limited to the hero passing through Port Blacksand (the setting of City of Thieves) during the introduction, and a bit where Ivy the troll talks about her brother Sourbelly, who was a town guard in the same book.  At this point it's only the last two Ian Livingstone books that are linked, but a small beginning is a beginning nonetheless.  Before Deathtrap Dungeon, Fighting Fantasy was a series of disconnected adventures. Afterwards, it's a world.

(Before I get into the meat of the book, I briefly want to bring up the prevalent fan theory that the hero of Deathtrap Dungeon is also the hero from City of Thieves, setting out after his defeat of Zanbar Bone.  It's a tempting thought, but I doubt that character would return to Port Blacksand so soon.  Also, I don't want to believe that the winner of the Trial of Champions has a unicorn tattooed on his head.)

There's a good bit of detail about the town of Fang given in the Background section.  It's located in the "northern province" of Chiang Mai, on the banks of the River Kok, and is often frequented by river traders and passengers passing through.  It takes four days up-river by raft to get from the ocean to Fang.

The town was once "ordinary", but that was before the Trial of Champions.  Some years ago (at least five) the town's ruler Baron Sukumvit decided to create the ultimate contest in order to bring attention to his town. With the help of the townspeople he had a labyrinth constructed with only one exit, and filled it with traps and monsters.  Once it was done he sent ten of his finest guards inside; none of them returned.  The tale spread, and soon Sukumvit announced the first Trial of Champions: anyone who could get through his Deathtrap Dungeon alive would be rewarded with 10,000 gold pieces and the freedom of Chiang Mai forever.  (It's never explicitly stated whether Sukumvit rules the province of Chiang Mai, or just the town of Fang.  This prize suggests the former.  It also suggests that the people don't have a lot of freedom, although that may just apply to foreigners.)  The first Trial of Champions had seventeen entrants, all of whom died.  'The Walk' as it would come to be known has been going on for at least five years since then (at one point it's even described as an 'ancient tradition', which seems a bit much considering that Sukumvit is still alive).

(It's mentioned that the Trial is always held on May 1st, and also that the town goes into party mode during April.  I just wanted to point out the use of the same months as our own calendar.  I'm pretty sure that this is a bit of setting detail that doesn't stick, and it's used here simply as a convenience to the reader.)

After this the Trial became a big deal, and Fang was very prosperous.  During the Trial the town was deluged with ships carrying tourists wanting to partake in the festivals.  The townsfolk spent months preparing before every Trial: erecting tents and dining-halls, and hiring musicians, dancers, fire-eaters, illusionists and every sort of entertainer.  (One pruriently wonders what comes under "every sort of entertainer".)  Most of April is spent in wild celebration, and the contestants in the Trial are treated like "demigods".

You may have noticed the rather Asian naming conventions for the places in this book. There's a reason for that: Ian Livingstone had a holiday in Thailand (probably on his Warlock of Firetop Mountain megabucks).  I feel pretty safe in saying that the populace of Fang would be Asian in appearance, and that is backed up by the regrettable description of one as a "small man with slanted eyes".

On the morning of the Trial there is some morning mist. Given that the book is set in May, it's either the end of Autumn or the end of Spring (it's not known yet whether the setting is in the northern or southern hemisphere). The mist suggests Autumn to me, and thus the southern hemisphere, but my knowledge of weather patterns is close to bugger-all.

Aside from the hero, there are five other contestants in the Trial, covering a fair spread of cultural backgrounds.  It's probably a good idea to look at them one by one.

There are two barbarians, dressed in fur and wielding axes. We've had barbarians in previous books (Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Forest of Doom), and they've all conformed to the stereotypical Conan mold. That's the case here as well.  One is named Throm, and has a healthy distrust of magic and the written word. Despite the fact that Throm and the hero spend a good amount of time together, the reader learns little of Throm's background. At one point he recognises a symbol of the 'druids of the north', suggesting that he hails from that direction (as is typical for fantasy barbarians).

There's a knight, in full plate armour. Very little is revealed about him, except that he is probably terrible at maths. I wonder where he might come from, or who knighted him. So far the only kingdoms mentioned have been those in the Sorcery! epic, and the one ruled by King Salamon in Citadel of Chaos.  The latter seems more likely.

The elf-woman is curious, in that she may be the first major elf character in Fighting Fantasy that conforms to the stereotypes for that race. There aren't any elves in Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Citadel of Chaos has a Black Elf, which is a different thing entirely. I don't recall any elves in Forest of Doom, and Starship Traveller is right out.  City of Thieves has an elf candlemaker, but he's an evil bugger.  So this is the first generically good and noble elf we meet in Fighting Fantasy.  I applaud Steve and Ian for their restraint.

Lastly, we have the ninja. What is he even doing here?  I mean, yes, he's here because it's the 1980s, but he's somewhat incongruous (admittedly not so much now that I've twigged to the Asian inspirations behind the book).  The Fighting Fantasy books have so far been almost entirely European/American in conception, so it's interesting to see a ninja here in all his glory.  He doesn't quite fit, but he's too busy being rad to give a shit.

The only other character of note in this book is Sukumvit, and not much is known about him.  One can assume from the fact that he designed the dungeon himself that he's devious and sadistic, with a cruel sense of humour. He definitely hates cowards and suck-ups, and appreciates those who show spirit.  He's surprised (and not particularly pleased) when the hero survives Deathtrap Dungeon.  From the illustration we can see that he's old and bearded, and has questionable taste in hats.

I should probably mention the Trialmasters and their servants, whose job it is to look after the dungeon, to make sure that the Trial is going well, and that the contestants are abiding by the rules.  The hero meets two Trialmasters during his quest, a dwarf and a gnome.  (The old guy with the statues might be a Trialmaster as well, but he's not explicitly named as such.)  The slaves that serve under the Trialmasters are ill-treated; most of them seem to be former contestants, and they are permitted no freedoms whatsoever in order to protect the secrets of Deathtrap Dungeon.  Oddly enough, the Trialmasters are seemingly trapped inside as well. While it seems like they rule the roost inside the dungeon, they aren't permitted to leave (as evidenced by Igbut the gnome, who tries to make a run for it at the end).  There could be some racial discrimination going on, given that the only Trialmasters the hero meets are a dwarf and a gnome, but that's probably all in my head. It may just be that those are the most likely types to want to spend their lives underground in a dungeon.  The dwarf, at least, seems to enjoy his job quite a bit.

And now, the monsters!  We have a number of monsters returning in pretty much the same form as they appeared earlier: a Minotaur, some Leprechauns, two Hobgoblins, two Orcs, two Goblins, a semi-civilised Troll named Ivy, a more primitive Cave Troll, a pair of Guard Dogs, and a Caveman.  There are also a lot of additions to the pantheon of giant insects: a Fly (and its maggots), Bees, Wasps, Beetles, Ticks, Mites, and a Scorpion.  Not to mention the black widow spider (normal-sized, thankfully).

A Medusa appears, acting in the classic mythological sense. This is technically the first one we've had, although Balthus Dire turned himself into one in Citadel of Chaos.  (Of course, Balthus Dire is classy and educated, so he called it a Gorgon.)

The Skeleton Warrior might be a new monster (basically a slightly stronger skeleton variant) or it might just be a skeleton who is also a warrior.  Either way, it acts just like any other skeleton you've met.

The Manticore is the second one for the series as a whole, as one featured as the climactic encounter of The Shamutanti Hills.  If we're going by the illustrations, the one in Deathtrap Dungeon is a little more refined and man-like in appearance, but their behaviour is comparable.  (It's also a little odd that Ian and Steve were working on books at the same time that used the same monster as the final boss.)

The Flying Guardians are newish, in that they are a new variant of animated statue.

The Pit Fiend is brand new, but let's be honest here: it's a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

The Mirror Demon is encountered in a hallway lined with mirrors, and it tries to drag the hero through the mirrors into its own dimensional plane.  It's described as a "grotesque being with four arms and four screaming faces".  The text doesn't give it a gender, but it's definitely female in the illustrations (much to the consternation of teenage me).  The demon can be defeated by smashing its mirrors, and its body will crack and shatter in death.  The mirror demon has great strength, but it can be killed with a regular old sword to the face.

The Troglodytes (about twenty of them) seem to have set up their own little society in the dungeon, complete with religion. When encountered, they're are running in a circle around a large golden effigy.  They're described as tiny, with large ears and noses (presumably because they live underground). Although hostile to strangers, they don't kill them immediately; instead they subject them to the Run of the Arrow, in which a troglodyte fires an arrow into the distance, and the victim is allowed to walk barefoot to that arrow before the troglodytes give chase.  If the victim is caught he will be killed, but at least he has a chance to escape with his life.  Strangely enough the troglodytes will explain all of this to the hero without difficulty, meaning that they all speak the same language.

The rock grub is a large worm-like creature that uses its powerful mandibles to chew tunnels through stone. They're blind, but seem to sense their prey by heat.  They also have a sense of smell, as one can scent the blood of its mate on the hero's sword.  There are at least two of the things burrowing through the dungeon area, and probably more.  They secrete slime as they tunnel through rock.

The imitator is a weird creature that pretends to be another object (in this case, a door). Anyone that touches it will he stuck like glue, while the imitator forms a fist to punch it to death.  The imitator, when attacking, is described as having a "fluid form". Acid will kill it rapidly, and it can be cut by a sword (although it's not clear if a sword is enough to kill it). 

And finally, the Bloodbeast, most famous of the creatures introduced in the book.  It's probably the most famous monster that's unique to Fighting Fantasy, and a lot of tat is due to the rad painting that Iain McCaig did for the cover.  Not to sell Ian Livingstone short, though, because it's pretty cool otherwise.  It's described as a "horrific bloated creature with tough, spiny skin and facial blisters which burst open to become mock eyes".  These mock eyes evolved to protect the Bloodbeast's real eyes, which are its only weak spot.  They live in pools of fetid slime, that give off noxious vapours that can knock people unconscious. Although they're too bulbous and heavy to leave their pool, they have a long tongue that can be used to drag its victims in.  The victim's flesh will decompose in the slime, before the bloodbeast begins to feed.  The origins of the Bloodbeast are left a mystery here.  There's not a lot else to speculate about, because Ian describes the beast in uncommon detail.

It's on to Island of the Lizard King another Livingstone joint.  I've played this one quite a bit, but I never owned it as a kid, so it's not quite carved into my memory like some others in the series.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Deathtrap Dungeon - Final Thoughts

Deathtrap Dungeon is a book with a lot of problems.  Its premise it utterly nonsensical.  Indeed, it takes very little scrutiny to poke holes in the book's back-story and set-up.  It's poorly designed on a number of fronts.  Only a character with very high stats can complete it.  There are several points at which choosing to take the wrong corridor dooms the adventurer.  The rules make no mention of the shield that the adventurer is definitely carrying.  Like I said, problems.

Even so, this is probably the most iconic book in the Fighting Fantasy series, and it has a decent claim on being the best.

So, for a book with these problems (most of which are minor, I admit; I was just fishing for a punchy opening), how is it so good?  After all, it's a pretty big design flaw when your Skill roll has a fifty-fifty chance (conservatively) of dooming your character.  I think the secret is in the way that all of these flaws play right into the premise of the book.

Let's look at the setting: it's a classic, Dungeons & Dragons style nonsensical funhouse dungeon.  These settings never make sense; monsters that should by all rights have long since killed each other live side-by-side, and the rooms and corridors are often full of traps with no discernible purpose.  Deathtrap Dungeon takes that premise and does it in one of the few ways that make sense: as a game show.  Everything fits, because it's all been placed there to stop the reader from making it to the end.

It's the same reason that the impossibility of completing this book with a weak character doesn't feel cheap.  The whole backstory of Deathtrap Dungeon is predicated on the fact that many, many adventurers have been through the Trial of Champions and failed.  It stands to reason that a weak or average character just isn't going to cut it here, and that only the exceptional stand a chance.  It should be frustrating, but it's so in-synch with the premise that it just feels right.  Ian Livingstone took this design ethos too far in his later work, but here's it works perfectly.

Speaking of Livingstone, there's no doubt in my mind that this is his finest work.  That may have been to his detriment, as many of his worst tendencies (spamming the reader with difficult combats, requiring the collection of an absurd number of items) have their beginnings here.  In Deathtrap Dungeon those tendencies are kept in reasonable check, and the premise means that they never feel arbitrary.  The writing is atmospheric, the encounters are almost always interesting, and there's a strong array of well-defined (if somewhat cliched) characters to interact with.  The other contestants are a lot fun to meet, and the Dwarf Trialmaster is one of the most despicable villains the series ever produced.

Iain McCaig should not go without mention either.  His work here is just as good as it was in City of Thieves, though the madcap, often humourous style seen there has been replaced by something altogether darker and more sinister.  There's a shadowy grit, and a mix of the ornate and the grotesque that gives the book an amazing visual atmosphere.  No offense intended to the other Fighting Fantasy artists, but I don't think the series ever topped the illustrations seen here.

Cool Stuff I Missed
I don't think I missed very much; that tends to happen when you have ten runs through a gamebook.  I never did encounter the hobgoblins, who have a jug of acid that you can drink if you're feeling exceptionally stupid.  There's a path I missed that leads to a medusa, and pair of leprechauns and a winged helmet on the opposite side of a pit.  To be honest, the main path hits most of the really interesting stuff.

Best Death
There are 32 instant death passages in this book, and many of them are great candidates.  Drinking the hobgoblin's acid was a contender, as was being dragged into another dimension by the Mirror Demon.  In the end I chose the following, for sheer strangeness and comedic imagery:

Addendum - S.T.A.M.I.N.A. Rating

Story & Setting: The story is pure D&D-fantasy cheese - it's absurd, but in all the ways I love.  The setting is iconic. and there are few better explanations for the ridiculous collections of monsters and traps that comprise most dungeons.  Rating: 6 out of 7.

Toughness: This one is hard.  Almost too hard.  Finding the right gems is a challenge, but what's even more challenging is just surviving to the end.  This is a gamebook crying out for a rule that lets your Skill range from 10 to 12.  Even so, the scenario demands such toughness.  Yes, it's too hard, but it should be.  As such, I can't mark it down too harshly.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Aesthetics: Livingstone's gleeful nastiness combined with McCaig's gruesome illustrations are a match made in heaven.  This might just be the best-looking gamebook ever made, with possibly the best cover of the whole FF series.  Rating: 7 out of 7.

Mechanics: The FF system is a robust one, and this book uses it well enough.  Rating: 4 out of 7.

Innovation & Influence: There's not a lot of innovation here, but in influence this book is unmatched.  I've got to split the difference here.  Rating: 4 out of 7.

NPC & Monsters: This book hits it out of the park at every turn.  The Bloodbeast is one of the best original monsters of the series.  The other contestants are cool characters, and Throm the barbarian is the first genuine character that the series provides. And the dwarf Trialmaster... What a bastard.  Rating: 7 out of 7.

Amusement: A gamebook I enjoy like few others.  It's tough, but every turn provides some new, sadistic challenge,. Even dying is often a reward in this book, just for some of the great, inventive death scenes.  Not everyone's going to enjoy it as much as I do, but those people aren't rating the book. Rating: 7 out of 7.

Yes it gets the bonus point, it's frickin' Deathtrap Dungeon.  The above scores total 39, which doubled gives me a total S.T.A.M.I.N.A. Rating of 78, which feels super-low.  Way too low.  It makes me doubt the system I've come up with, to be honest.  Still, there's no changing it now.  Onward!