Deathtrap Dungeon

“Oh god. I have no idea what to do next. I’m going to die.”

Deathtrap Dungeon by Ian Livingstone

Covers: Iain McCaig, Mel Grant

Illustrations: Iain McCaig

I realigned the cover since the scan was wonky.

Mel Grant’s cover is pretty good, really.

So, the plot of this book? There’s this town, and the local lord built a huge, trap-filled, monster infested, puzzle-riddled dungeon that no-one has ever come out of alive. Every year adventurers, being idiots, turn up and try to make it through for the prize of 10,000 gold pieces. The whole town throws a party to laugh at the morons. YOU are one of those idiots. YOU are dead meat.

It’s the most well known and possibly the most successful Fighting Fantasy book. There are two sequels. There was a computer game based on it, which was not very good and was probably one of the earliest sexist marketing campaigns in computer game history. A lot of the names in the book are stolen from Thailand. Author cameo. Etcetera. Almost everyone knows all this, and it’s not hard to find out if you read some of the other playthrough blogs. Actually, this book results in some of the funnier entries in the playthrough genre since it’s so colossally unfair but never pretended to be anything else. It’s actually fun because it totally lives up to expectations, and thus no-one can complain.

It’s one of the most mangled of the FF books in the public library so I suppose the kids still love the idea of being slaughtered in Baron Sukumvit’s evil labyrinth. So it’s time for me to roll some dice and take on the ultimate dungeon crawl…


Skill: 12
Stamina: 18
Luck: 12

I might actually stand a chance!

Equipment: Sword, shield (bonus item!), leather armour, backpack, 10 provisions, potion of fortune, and a death wish.

Onward to Adventure!

So I’m chilling out in the wilderness, wandering around, and then I find a note nailed to a tree. It says that there’s a big dungeon and I can win a lot of gold if I survive it. This explains that nagging feeling I’ve been getting that I should be travelling north. Deathtrap Dungeon, being the most enormous and dangerous underground complex on the continent, exerts an adventurer attracting force that exceeds five hundred mega-dungeons. Even then, the reputation of this one is usually enough to make most adventurers successfully overcome the dungeon crawling urge. But I’ve got some moves. So I set off, heading to Port Blacksand, travelling north by ship, and then rafting up the river to the town of Fang. It’s not the 10,000 gold pieces, or the freedom of Chiang Mai province forever, but the fact that no-one has ever won the Trial of Champions that makes this venture so attractive to me.

I arrive in Fang three days before the dungeon is opened to adventurers. I register my entry in the competition and am given a violet scarf to signify that I’m a heroic adventurer prepared to risk it all for fame and wealth. Or possibly to show that I’m a dangerously suicidal lunatic. Either way, I get to drunkenly party like it’s the end times for a few days, and then I wake up with a hangover and the nagging feeling that I did something stupid. Someone promptly knocks on my door and reminds me what that stupid thing was.

I’m led down to the entrance to Deathtrap Dungeon, where I see the other contestants. There’s a knight in full plate mail, a couple of barbarians, an elven woman with more daggers than anyone could possibly need, and someone who is probably an assassin. I smile warmly at the elven woman. She smiles back, and then draws her finger across her throat and points at me. So we’re probably not teaming up in the dungeon, then.

Only an adventurer would be so stupid as to volunteer for this. So here I am.

Yeah. That’s not foreboding AT ALL.

We draw straws to see who goes in first. I’m going to be the fifth contestant to wander in to certain doom. Everyone is cheering. It’s probably too late to back out now, but the dungeon is compelling me to enter. I couldn’t walk away if I tried. I step inside the dank, rat and spider filled corridor. The dim light provided by glowing crystals in the roof is barely enough to see by. The first thing I find is a table with a box for each contestant. Inside are two gold coins and a note telling me that I’ll need to find special items to make it through alive. Just like every other dungeon, then. Ahead there’s the first of the inevitable T-junctions. There’s an arrow on the wall pointing west, and three sets of wet footprints heading that way. Someone went east. I decide that if three people went west, three people will have tripped traps and killed monsters. West it is.

I pass up the option to turn north, and walk around an iron bell which is probably a trap. Then the tunnel turns north again and I find a couple of hobgoblins fighting over a leather bag. I skewer one before they notice me, and kill the other. It turns out they were fighting over an earthenware jug of acid. I suppose that might be useful. Further on I find some suspicious looking wooden poles that stretch across the tunnel. It seems too obvious that they’re for crossing without touching the floor, so instead I step over each carefully and carry on. I continue following the footprints, considering they’re my best chance of not getting killed. Eventually I come into a room with a large idol. It’s six metres high, flanked by some stuffed flamingoes, and has huge emeralds for eyes. It’s probably going to be bad luck to take them, right? Well who cares, I want one.

Flamingoes of death!

This is obviously going to go well.

I clamber up and go to pry one out, but suddenly the birds come to life and attack me. Dammit. I kill them, and then grab the left eye of the idol. I decide against trying my luck with the other, and get out of there. Further up the hallway I find a door. Inside a voice demands I pay respect to Sukumvit. I call him names instead, figuring this the obvious answer is not likely to pay off here. I get a gold ring for my trouble.

After a shaft of light gives me a hint about diving into water when I walk through it, I find another door. Inside is a slimy room, and a pit of worms. There’s a nice looking dagger in there. The worms might be poisonous or acidic or bitey or vampiric. But that dagger has shiny stones set in the hilt, so I decide to give a go at reaching into the writhing, slimy morass and pulling out the blade. It’s pretty good. Stylish, gaudy, and of course pointy. I head for the door, feeling good about overcoming this challenge. Then a giant fly attacks me.

I kill the fly and continue down the corridor, wondering where the hell Sukumvit even got that thing. Eventually I come to a pit. There’s a rope dangling over it. I decide to jump over instead, because I’ve learned some tricks from this dungeon. I just make it, and continue onwards. I find another door in the wall. Okay, I know I have to find some stuff to make it out of here, so I don’t exactly have a choice about opening the door. But I don’t really want to. This is Deathtrap Dungeon, not Harmless Door Dungeon. I sigh and open the door.

Inside there are a lot of statues of knights and warriors – and I recognise one as a fellow contestant, so I know what’s going on here –
and a crazy old man. He must be crazy to live in here. I am given a choice of answering a question or being turned to stone. I figure, if I don’t try to answer it I’m getting turned to stone anyway. I get the question right and allowed to leave. Further on I find another door. This one has an X carved roughly into it. Damn. That can’t be good. Inside is a skeleton in a chair, holding some parchment.

Obvious trap is obvious.

“Hey there, would you like to read this parchment?” – Kids! Never accept parchment from skeletons!

I suspect that the skeleton will attack me if I grab the parchment. I may need to read the parchment, or it might be cursed. If the parchment contains vital information I’ll die later if I don’t read it. Or the parchment might be useless but ignoring it makes the skeleton attack me. It’s a whole network of hideously unfair choices. Whatever I do things will end up bad, but at least I know how to redeaden a skeleton. I grab the parchment and it stands up to attack me. After I smash it to bits I find the parchment recommends using a shield against a manticore. Well, at least I was right about that being useful. Well, useful to adventurers who didn’t bring a shield with them.

There’s a staircase leading down in the corner, so I head that way. I pass by some mushrooms, which are probably poisonous or carnivorous, and find some stairs up to a trap door. I leap through and kill a couple of goblins, making off with their collection of iron spikes. I then head off through the north door. Along the hallway I find a door with a hand nailed to it. That’s awfully charming. I go inside and find someone chained up. He’s apparently a failed contestant who was given a choice between life as a servant to the Trialmasters, or death as a corpse. He chose the former, but tried to escape and was captured, de-handed, and chained to the wall in this cell for a year. I set him fee and he tells me that all he knows is that I have to gather gems to win the Trial of Champions.

That was not very useful, so I leave the prisoner behind – presumably he can escape by backtracking, though he will probably die either way – and continue onwards, only to find a pipe in the wall. I shrug and crawl into it, finding a box. I extract myself and find a sapphire and an iron key inside the container. Further on I find two dead orcs. I steal a necklace of teeth that turns out to be an amulet of strength, and carry on. I find one of the barbarians. He says I can team up with him. I’m not complaining, since this dungeon can only get more difficult. But of course only one person can win this contest, so I’ll just have to stab Throm in the back later.

A generic barbarian, spiced up by having an eye patch.

I think there’s an 80’s metal cover that looks like this.

Further on we climb down a pit and find two books on a shelf on the wall. I open one and find a phial of liquid. I drink it, because that’s what adventurers do. It’s a trap-detecting potion, which is probably the most useful thing I could find in this dungeon. The other book falls apart as I open it, but I manage to read about a thing called a bloodbeast What are the odds this is a random find?

Further on a couple of cave trolls show up. Not a problem. The real problem is further down the hallway, where behind a door sits a dwarf. He’s a Trialmaster, and says this whole teaming up deal is against the rules. So I’m set some tests: Playing dice (easy), catching a cobra (easy), fighting a minotaur (easyish), and then fighting Throm (pretty easy too). No problem. Onward, and all that. I can hear a loud buzzing from the western fork in the tunnel, and since I’ve dealt with one giant insect today without too much trouble I think I can handle a second. Except there’s hundreds. All rather large, but fortunately behind a glass panel. Unfortunately there’s a crown in there, with a diamond set in it. I sigh, smash the glass, and grab a torch from the wall and try to fend off the insects. Thankfully I’m only severely bitten, not lethally. The insects stay behind because the torch-lit room is preferable to them, so I can sit down to eat cheese sandwiches while examining the crown… which is not gold, and the diamond is just glass… shit.

I trek onward, dejectedly rubbing my insect bites – at least, the ones I can reach – until I hear someone approaching. It turns out to be one of the servants of the trialmasters. I trade him one of my gold pieces for some information. I have no idea what someone spends money on in this dungeon, but apparently a secret compartment in a grotesque chair is worth knowing about. Eventually I find the chair and snaffle the potion hidden inside. It’s a Doppleganger Potion, which will let me pretend to be a different creature. That might be handy, I suppose.

Further on I find the tunnel sloping downwards into water. I swim through, soaking two of my sandwiches, and then carry on until I hear cries from a nearby cavern. I go to look and find the elven woman who was so very unfriendly to me at the entrance to the dungeon. She’s being crushed by a boa constrictor. I figure I should take the high road here, and lop the snake’s head off. Unfortunately I’m too late, and she dies. So I loot her corpse, taking two daggers, a mirror, and a charm. I also swipe her bread, which I munch as I carry on through the dungeon.

A grille in the floor looks suspiciously like it’s meant to be explored, so I open it up and reach in for the grappling hook I see inside. For my trouble I’m grabbed by a tentacle. It crushes my arm terribly before I can chop it away, but I had the presence of mind to not stick my sword arm in there so I’m not impaired too much. For my trouble, I get a brass bell and a grappling hook. Further on I find a room that contains a chest and some footprints in dust. The trap detection potion warns me the chest is trouble, so I avoid the trap inside, and find a pendant missing the stone that should be set in it. One of the contestants is still alive! I leave the room counting off the dead ones I’ve met. Who is left, the other barbarian, or the assassin?

Eventually I come to a huge cavern. It’s dominated by a golden idol, surrounded by a bunch of dancing midgets with huge noses. They’re troglodytes, and I need to get past them. I decide to try that potion I found. It works really well… just not for very long. The evil midgets spot me and I am forced to run. Over a bridge and up to a door, which I happen to have the key for. On the other side is an intersection, and to the north is someone calling out to me. It’s a man with a basket elevator.

“This is a trap, right?” I ask.

“No, no trap.” he says with a smile. Of course he might be lying. What choice do I have? I give him something I’ve been trekking through the dungeon with and get hauled up to the higher level. By a troll. She’s called Ivy and wants something too. I distract her by asking about a painting on the wall and then knock her out cold with a stool. A quick search of the room turns up a bone, which I decide to take. This turns out to be useful because there’s a couple of angry dogs just outside the room. Further on I find a large wall blocking the tunnel. There’s a door, of course, but there’s also a large and noisy monster on the other side. Now, I’ve got a grappling iron, but no rope. This is a problem. Oh well, I’ll pop through the door and kill whatever it is. I open the door…

What do they feed it for the rest of the year?


…and shut it again, leaning against it in shock for a few moments. Right. I suppose I have to fight it. I open the door again and stride boldly into battle against the tyrannosaurus with gladiatorial training. At least it doesn’t have a trident and net. Of course, I kill it with ease… and more than a little luck. I’m an adventurer, this is what we do. I swig down my potion of fortune and search around, finding a magic shield under a trapdoor, and then leave by the double doors opposite the point where I entered the Pit Fiend’s Arena of Happiness. Further down the tunnel I find a red line on the floor and a sign that says “no weapons beyond this point”. I think this is bullshit and carry on, eventually finding a marble hallway full of tall pillars. Oh, and a ninja.

The shurkien he throws sails past me, because that potion of fortune worked out to make me the luckiest woman in the world for a moment. Then we square off. As far as I can tell, he’s the last competitor in the dungeon.

There's no background for this image (okay just a circle, but still).

I suppose he sneaked past the Pit Fiend. That’s practically cheating.

“I have to kill you to win!” he says coldly.

“Listen,” I say, “I just killed a tyrannosaurus rex in a gladiatorial arena. I’m not impressed by you.”

I kill the ninja. He’s not too hard to take down. I then eat my last cheese sandwich and loot the corpse of all healing items and also a diamond. All righty. What’s next? Well, the only way forward is down… a chute. This would be kind of funny if it tipped me into a pool of acid. Huh, I probably should have thought of that somewhere before halfway down… But it doesn’t happen. I land on a hard stone floor and stand up, dust myself off, and look around. Between me and the exit from this chamber is…

It's a bit like a frog but more angry, and less limbs.

Iain McCaig proves once again that a cover sells a book. I wanted this one SO BADLY when I was six.

One of those. It’s bulbous. It’s green. It’s spiky. It has horrible blisters that burst open while I’m watching to reveal eyes. I read all about it earlier. First things first, I chop off its tongue before it can drag me into the pool of acidic slime, Then I try to pierce its eyes. Two eyes, no problem. This is why a literate adventurer is a well-prepared adventurer. I carry on and find another room full of marble pillars. It’s also full of manticore, but I read that parchment and have a shiny new magical shield ready, and don’t get a face full of tail spikes. I somehow manage to kill the monster and then I’m faced with… Oh no, no way… a fucking GNOME?!

Skulls and batwings mean it's a serious door.

If this door was any more ominous then it would have a big neon sign saying THIS IS AN ONMINOUS DOOR.

“Greetings, I am Igbut!” he says. I start to giggle uncontrollably.

“Silence! No laughing at my name! I am the trialmaster for your final test. You need three gems to open the door. Do you have any gems?”

He rattles off three gems, and I have them all: Emerald, sapphire, diamond. So I start sticking them in the lock while the gnome squeaks about how no-one else ever found them all before.


The lock shocks me when I get them wrong.




This is ridiculous. If I’d brought the pit fiend along instead of killing it I could have it try instead.


Oh wow.

Igbut is kind of excited, and throws a glass globe containing poison gas at my feet. Dirty tricks from a gnome: Who would have thought it? I jump away and then follow Igbut through the door. At the end of the tunnel I can see daylight, but halfway I can see a gnome with a crossbow bolt through his head. His eagerness to escape led him into the final trap. When I walk out of the dungeon everyone cheers. I get given the chest full of gold. But the best part is that Baron Sukumvit looks quite surprised.


Hahaha! VICTORY! Okay, yes, I read all the other Fighting Fantasy blogs. Thus, my figuring out the right way through isn’t a particularly stunning achievement, and coupled with dice that love me it’s not that amazing. Except… I ended the book on a Stamina of 3, had no provisions left, and had drunk my potion of fortune. So this is one of those cases where yes, you best have the highest stats. The book is sneaky though and builds up to the more extreme encounters.

There’s a real sense of dread about halfway through where you realise shit just got real what with the deadly traps and the monsters and the fact that you have to find a particular group of items to win. Subsequently, the fight with the ninja was really tense. At that point I was back in a part of the book I knew about and was aware that within a few pages I’d either win or die. I felt like I had something to lose!

Well, after my stunning achievement here, I’m feeling good about the next book in my pile. Let’s see, it’s… Crypt of the Sorcerer. Oh shit.

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: People actually enter this contest?! STAY THE FUCK OUT OF DEATHTRAP DUNGEON. I MEAN IT.

Ridiculous Battle: In close succession: Pit Fiend: Skill 12 Stamina 15. Ninja: Skill 11, Stamina 9. Bloodbeast: Skill 12, Stamina 10. Manticore: Skill 11, Stamina 11. You can avoid the Pit Fiend with the right items, and the Bloodbeast is a two round fight if you find the book, but all in all that is a cruel end of game sequence.

Victory: You get a laurel and proclaimed the Champion of Deathtrap Dungeon. Oh yeah and 10,000 gold pieces. Plus Baron Sukumvit looks shocked that you actually survived.

What Was I Thinking? Taking a right turn at the first junction gets you some rope, which makes a couple of later tasks a lot easier. I, of course, didn’t do that.

5 Responses to Deathtrap Dungeon

  1. Graham Hart says:

    It’s probably no coincidence, given the 1980s fantasy barbarian, that the skeleton-in-a-chair is lifted straight from the John Milius version of Conan the Barbarian.

    Also, if someone actually built a Deathtrap Dungeon-type challenge, populated with random deadly traps and improbable genetic monstrosities, and offered, say, a $10,000,000 annual prize for the winner/survivor, I bet there wouldn’t be any shortage of volunteers…

    • I suspect that might be a wee bit illegal, since it would essentially be a form of assisted suicide for everyone. Plus it wouldn’t be as much fun to enter if they televised it, there would be no sense of mystery. It wouldn’t be fun to watch without the bloodbeast and pit fiend, either.

  2. People struggle with the high risk premises in these books. However, today there are daredevils who risk everything for glory, breaking records, etc. Either Titan or Out of the Pit mentions that most folk don’t live past their teens, so if you’re bound to die soon anyway, treasure hunting is worth a shot.

  3. Shane says:

    This is the first one I ever read/played. I did get to the end once but didn’t have the diamond. I can’t believe I only made it that far once. Still, the books at my dad’s IN ANOTHER COUNTRY, I’m an idiot and am now going to have to buy it once again. So disappointed Tin Men Games haven’t released this one yet. It was one of the most popular, if not ‘the’ most popular so I don’t quite get that. Anyhow, great review. I’m buying it again ASAP.

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