Monday, 13 August 2012

Trial of Champions playthrough

Written by Ian Livingstone, Artwork by Brian Williams

Nowhere in the book does it say
that I need to wear that silly mask
Trial of Champions. Ah, memories!

When I was around 9 or 10 years old, my grandmother would drag me to a local weekly car boot sale every other Sunday, which took place on a scrap of unused land a short car drive from home. I hated the experience, which always ended up trudging through boxes of people's unwanted rubbish with a fortnightly regularity. The only time anything useful ever turned up was when I found a copy of Trial of Champions and Demons of the Deep for sale one day.

The strange thing about Trial of Champions is that it acts as something of a pseudo-sequel for Deathtrap Dungeon. Only this time you are entered into the dungeon in order to win your freedom from slavery, rather than simply because you're greedy for money and too stupid to start up your own merchant business. I suppose this is what makes adventurers so respected, and why they have such a low survival rate.

The book starts with a tale of you being captured by pirates after having just left Port Blacksand, of course. Where else would you be attacked by pirates? When it comes to Port Blacksand, you're kinda lucky you're not kidnapped and sold into slavery by the city guards! Anyway, you've been purchased as a slave by Lord Carnuss, the evil brother of the devious Baron Sukumvit, and he plans to make you fight for the honour of representing him in his brother's annual dungeon challenge.

The Baron has announced that his new, improved dungeon is even more deadly than before. Which, if you remember what it was like last time, seems bloody well impossible anyway. Seriously, why not just round up some 'contestants' and chuck them into a giant mincing machine? They'd have about the same chance of survival! Anyway, I may actually stand a chance here - the weeks of slavery have forged me into a brutal and cold-hearted warrior machine-man, with a skill of 11 and a stamina of 22!! Lucky dice rolls - but my luck was a mere 8. Still... Conan, eat your heart out.

My obligatory 'Gladiator' image. Enjoy it.
My very first choice in the game is if I should eat some of the food that one of the slave pen's guards is offering me, or try to punch him in the face instead. I'm nowhere near stupid enough to get into a brawl with these guys at this stage, so I chew some food and prepare for the morning to rise, where I will meet others in the arena - or at the book calls it, the Arena OF DEATH!! *horror movie music*

I'm rather disappointed to find that the first day doesn't include any actual gladiatorial face-thumping yet, but instead we're told that we should compete in a 100 meter sprint. It's made a little more interesting in that parts of the floors are covered in burning coals which I need to leap over, but still... I decide to make a name for myself by charging into the front of the race, and I manage to avoid falling behind or dying from exhaustion. These should definitely be Olympic events.

But on the second day... I get to fight!

The dread Bonecrusher and family
Curiously, my enemy isn't a fellow fighting slave, but instead I am set against a giant monster, a Bonecrusher. Having chose a trident and net as my weapons, I am told that I have chosen well and... wait a moment... how did Lord Carnuss get a Bonecrusher monster? Where does he keep it? What does he FEED it? What happens if it kills all the fighters? Will he enter the Bonecrusher as his warrior in the dungeon? Oh, never mind, the damn monster's near-sighted and can't stand up once you knock it over, so I gently push him over and am declared winner.

It's at this point that things start to heat up. Overnight, one of the other slaves is ordered to kill me in the cells, which doesn't seem very sporting, especially given that he has a skill of ten. Ten! And really, the first fight in the game? Oh boy, it's going to be one of those FF books... I manage to chop him apart and get a peaceful night's sleep next to his dead decaying corpse, and on the next day we head into the arena for a series of fun sports events.

The prize for competing in real-world competitions is
somewhat better than being thrown into a dungeon
that's designed specifically to turn you into burger meat
Our first olympic event, mastering the spinning blades that threaten to slice my head off or cut my legs out from under me at the same time. I get through this, and move on to the next event - a game of blind man's buff played with spiked maces. Seriously, who thinks up this kind of stuff?

Blindfolded and waving a spiked morning star around like a swirling madman, I manage to get into a fight with two other slaves, killing them both. Both have skill scores of at least 8, and because this game has no food and no other means to heal up your character thus far, my powerful stamina score of 22 is now down to a mere 10. You want to know a secret? I actually planned to play through this book a few weeks earlier. During this same blindfolded combat sequence, I tried to trip up one of the other competitors - which for me shot with arrows by the guards for my trouble, instant-death. So I scrapped that play-through and decided to do it later instead.

It's only at this stage do I get to regain any stamina - a puny four points - as I'm lead to my final match against the only other surviving competitor, who is suitably named the 'Southerner'. See, some books would give me a name for the character or something, but not this one. Names are for the weak. This man is not weak, he has a skill of ten. I whomp him over the head with his skill score of ten until I eventually beat him, emerging from this entire silly gladiatorial games as a mighty victor!

Without any real chance to celebrate or be praised as a mighty warrior who crushes all that stand before me (seriously, I could use some praise and adulation here, folks), I'm shipped off to Fang, under constant close watch from Lord Carnuss' men. And y'know what? They STILL don't give me any meals for my journey into the dungeon!! Aaargh!!  I get introduced to Carnuss' brother, the infamous Baron Sukkumvit (really, why is Lord Carnuss described as the 'evil brother'? Seems they're both a bit on the crazy evil side if you ask me!) and off I go into the Trial of Champions.

The very first thing I see in the dungeon is a door, with a sign reading "Keep Out" next to it. Naturally, I do what any self-respecting adventurer would do and head straight through this door. What do I find inside? A fire-breathing hell hound which tries to burn me to death and eat me, of course. Evidently curiosity did kill the cat. Still I kill it, find a gold ring in a mass of straw in the back corner of the room, and head on down the corridor.

Don't know about you, but
I'd sure want to come back!
I am soon parted from my golden ring though (No, they stole my precious!) when I come to a bridge across a large chasm. A sigh demands that I place some gold in a box, and not wanting to risk angering the bridge and possibly wind up facing a vicious Bridge Golem, I drop the ring into the box and toddle along on my way. I soon come to a small table. It has a hole cut into it, and the words "One is on and two is gone" written on it.

The book asks if I wish to reach into the hole. Figuring I'd look awesome with a steel hook for a hand, I stick my hand in and find two buttons inside. One is clearly marked '1' and the other '2'. I hit the '1' because I don't much want my hand to be 'gone'. Amazingly enough, it works. The wall slides aside, letting me continue along my way.

The next room I have the chance of entering has a broom nailed to it. I step inside, and encounter a witch. I know that she is a witch, because she is standing at a giant bubbling cauldron, and is throwing rats and slugs into it. Good to know witches aren't being typecast or anything. She looks up at me, sends two vampire bats to me, and makes herself vanish in a puff of smoke. I admit, it would be funnier if she had attacked me with two bats herself (preferably duel-wielding cricket bats - old ladies wielding blunt force weapons tends to be one of the funniest things in the world), but what can ya do, eh?

I manage to knock the two bats out of the way, and the book tells me that I dump their bodies in the cauldron, for some reason or other. I'm then given the chance to explore the room, during which I find a rather unusual box, unusual because it has the face of one of the other Trial of Champion contestants on its lid. The moment I pick up the box, I am pulled into it, freeing the adventurer that was trapped within.

Maybe the best fate for all mimes...
The book asks me to test my luck, which due to being so terribly low, I fail. I assume that a lucky roll would mean that another adventurer would later come around and open the box, freeing me a la 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo. But with my lack of luck, I am sealed inside the box forever-more, doomed to be a rather unlike-able piece of furniture.

Truly, a tragic end for such a noble adventure.

This is a very neat book, and makes the most of the setting to create its own backstory by making you fight through the trials at the start. It's very evocative, and also very effective at what it's trying to do. Where it falls apart a little is that it never really transitions smoothly into the second part (the actual Dungeon), while other books like Cavern of the Snow Witch managed to do so. It could have smoothed this out by making the fight sequences at the start a little easier (once you get into the dungeon, the monsters you're fighting are far easier than the fighting slaves you fought earlier) and giving you some provisions to stack up on before you enter the dungeon.

Aside from these, I think it's one of the more involving and enjoyable of the standard FF books, and the early sections show a lot of the brutality and savagery of the world. Worth the read.


  1. Found your blog by way of Turn to 400. Great writing! Thanks for doing this - it`s such a great nostalgia hit.

    1. Thanks :) I always struggle to get new readers coming in, so I appreciate it and hope you stick around. I'm trying to put together a full set of the books. This one was one of the ones I had as a kid, but didn't get to play as much as some of the others. I've got a bunch of new ones that I never got to play before on their way now, so they'll be quite a new experience :)

  2. Ah, how frustrating after the gladiatorial success to be trapped inside that funny box! I re-played this one a couple of times the other day and whilst I didn't complete it (plus ca change) I lesrned a vital thing: don't give up your gold, those rings are fairly essential....I have to say that even though the dungeon sequence is very entertaining (the dextrous Strider!) I get a little fed up redoing the opening trials part and, as you say, having your stamina zapped in the process. anyway, keep up the good work!

  3. Is it cheating if you reset the book back to the beginning of the dungeon section and skip out the trials? ;)

    Furthest I've got is the bit where the rings become rather important. Won't say anymore to spoil the ending, but very frustrating after everything you've been through!

    1. Not cheating, no. Livingstone himself has recommended that you use bookmarks.

  4. I loved this one more than Deathtrap Dungeon, but it's strength is also its weakness.

    The first couple of times the Spartacus-esque arena challenges make for a great read ("dang. Why didn't I stash a weapon like the easterner?") but then after a few readings it becomes "can we just get to the freakin' dungeon?!?"

    The first time I went through the dungeon I thought I was laughing with about three gold rings. But then you realise how many you need and how tough this is.

    Still can't understand how Lord Carnuss can afford to buy a whole bunch of slaves, but can't get you some armor, food or a backpack (maybe even a potion? Your luck score is pretty low by the time you get there) to maximise your chances of success. Even one of those spiked gloves you use in your fight with the Southerner wouldn't hurt.

  5. The monsters in the labyrinth do get more fearsome as the story progresses. I suppose the other slaves were selected because they were starwalt.

  6. The gladiatorial trials at the beginning of the book could just as easily be called "Let's weed out the silly little boys and girls who didn't give themselves high initial scores right from the onset, shall we?"
    Case in point: At paragraph 237 the spinning pole trial involves Testing Your Skill to avoid instant death. This is an unavoidable paragraph imposed very early on. So if you rolled an initial skill of 7 or 8 you would do well to start writing your will now! At this stage in the book I would have thought "Lose 2 stamina points and move along" would be more appropriate.

  7. I always preferred the first Dungeon book over this back in the day but now I appreciate this for its deviousness. The one true way through the book is the longest way-and you will only find it by multiple trial and error. Has anyone ever noticed that the hint of the truest way is not just the hardest, but that you'll need to come across all the other contestants. I so agree-the arena thing is novel for the first few tries but then it's "sod off, let's get to the dungeon!"

    Nothing wrong with the Witch at her cauldron-and she does the smart thing by shoving off. I tried to emulate her-and throwinbg that dust on the floor takes you to a room with no door handle on the door. Death by stravation. Of course it didn't take HER there the old bag! The book says youdrop her Bats in the stew in the hope of poisoning her-thoughhow likely that is considering everything else in there I'd like to know.

    This book is notable for several shocking things, the biggest is this-to my knowledge it's the only book where a roll UNDER or equal to SKILL (impossible not to, as you need SKILL 12 to get you through!) MEANS YOU DIE! Yes you heard me! Roll your SKILL or under at this point, and you escape an attacking something to die by another. But this DOES make sense-the foe herself is really neat and has never turned up in anything else. She made up for not being in 'Demons Of The Deep' and 'Seas Of Blood' by being in here.

    But the biggest cheek is that in this you have to fight TWO of your contestants. Aren't the bloody traps and monsters enough? And all this for jerkoffs that don't even get it they need gold rins! And other items. What-do they just think it's a simple walk through to the exit-just don't go in any door, fight anything unless its sweet little me and back get out! What the (beep!)

    But here we go. My biggest problem isn't the nastiest contestant-the toughest one who would typcially fight me, it's the other one. That poncy Warolord with the paedo moustache in the yellow frock which makes him look like a Queen of Hearts card guard after swallowing a cooker-possibly the most worthless, useless waste of spore space EVER to be in any book is inexplicably following you OVER THREE QUARTERS OF THE WAY THROUGH-and you 'have' to fight him. Never mind he's gotten through a million hard traps and must have faced equally difficult monsters to get where I am when I meet him. What is he, Sukumvit's bitch? Makes me so mad I just ignore him-in fact I have it that he and the Chaos Champion contestant are fighting in the tunnel where the Chaos Champ is encountered, and you face the Champion as he slots of the loser. Even THIS is unsatisfying-that Warlord wouldn't even get past the Witch! AND he has nothing on him. Pointless much!? Conquer a dungeon, he couldn't even get out of his Tudor corset. Talk about the Emperor's new woes. Even his mother must hate him. Irrelevant pleb.

    I love Livingstone's design of the first 'Deathtrap' book and how the real path is found amongst the ones that won't get you out, but here he's topped himself. There's a clever slight doubling back that needs to be done, a difficult answer demanded to get a key, and the constant guessing with left or right. And if you go into an early door it is a room of transportation, speeding you though many sections that contain tonnes of things you need and you'll never do it. The way he's hidden things and the amount of things you need, need to understand and to face is amazingly cheeky but great fun!

  8. Livingston'es made a few errors though. Aside from the illogical method of placing the last contestant up my arse when I've almost overcome every dodgy thing there (and why does every other contestant get an easy ride apart from me-mind you they'll always die the same way, I'll keep coming back, so karma!) when he's too useless to even cross a bridge without falling off it at the start, Livingstone forgets to mention restoring your SKILL&LUCK to their Initial levels once you overcome the arena-stupid as not only will you have lost loads of both there, but you'll never get through THIS dungeon walk on either remaining, never mind what you'll have to learn and face and avoid through experience/repeated tries! Dumb, so I always restore those as well. It was an oversight!

    Next up is the Skeleton King. He mentions here what he never does in any other book when you fight Skeletons-that baldes only take 1 STAM point off them, yet not with the Bone Devil earlier! Even worse, in the pic, you clearly see a Dagger on the Skeleton's belt, yet you are not even told it's there in the text to take it, just a saddlebag NOT seen in the pic, containing 2 things not needed. But the daggers that ARE mentioned are in a room down a tunnel you SHOULDN'T GO as it's the wrong way! Yet a dagger is needed to help get that wretched Chaos Champ down 1 Skill and 2 STAM should you encounter him, so I always atake it from the Skel, or I attack him with a torch! Then again, if you have a Magic Sword, you should be allowed to add 1 to your Attack Strength when fighting a thing like him!

  9. Love this book. The dungeon is seriously hard to get through as you need so many items. It really captured my imagination as it pushes you to the limit in the final stages.

    Also, mapped this one out a couple of years back.