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Item - City of Terrors

(third printing)
(British edition)
Series: Tunnels and Trolls — no. 9
Translated Into: La città del terrore (Italian)
Adapted Into: City of Terrors (Digital Gamebook)
Road to Gull (Digital Gamebook)
Author: Stackpole, Michael A.
Illustrators: Carver, Rob(in) (American interior and original cover)
Kirby, Josh (British edition)
Peregrine, Stephan (American reissue cover)
Danforth, Elizabeth (Liz) T. (American interior)
Dates: 1978
1986 (British edition)
ISBN: 055212768X / 9780552127684 (British edition)
Length: 96 pages (232 sections) (British edition)
castiglione's Thoughts:

City of Terrors was the first Tunnels & Trolls solitaire adventure written by Michael Stackpole - yes, THAT Michael Stackpole... the author on the New York Times Bestseller List. Before he was writing novels for the Star Wars franchise, he was writing solitaire adventures (as well as designing the game that brought Tunnels and Trolls into the era of tommy guns and super spies - Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes) for a small adventure game company that published a game which, for a time, gave Dungeons & Dragons a run for its money.

I LOVED this adventure. The version I have is the original with the beautiful two panel cover drawn by Liz Danforth and Rob Carver. I have no idea why they later went to a different color cover. Probably because it was in color. I may be the only one but I liked the old monochrome covers of the adventures... something about them seemed so... medieval (and thus appropriate, given the setting of the games). Anyway, the illustration of the hustle and bustle in the streets of the city of Gull is exquisite with a LOT of detail showing locations and characters that later turn up in the adventure. The illustrations inside the adventure are no less gorgeous, showing off the talents of Liz Danforth and Rob Carver. I'd say the adventure was worth buying just for the artwork alone.

The adventure, as it takes place in a city, is fairly open ended. One wanders around the city of Gull and gets into (and out of) trouble. Instead of wandering monsters, we have wandering personalities - people who can either help or hinder (like mug) your character. City of Terrors was the first of the "monster" solitaires... it was HUGE compared to the ones that came before it - just comparing its thickness to that of Buffalo Castle or Naked Doom, one can see how much material is packed in its pages. However, in many ways, it was several mini-adventures that were "linked" together as one wandered about the city, got into one scrap or mishap and then went on to another.

A lot of stuff could happen to your character. It's been a while since I played it, but you could be mugged by a wandering personality, enslaved and seduced by a vampiress, seduced by a Medusa (there was a lot of sexual content in this adventure, BTW - I can't imagine what the British editions must be like with all of that edited out), and I think I even wound up in a UFO at one point. You could also leave the city at almost any point in the adventure too - just go to the port, hop on a ship and leave the island and head for the mainland. However, with all the stuff you could do, who would want to cut short their stay in the city? The diversity of stuff that could happen to you was incredible. Before the likes of Ultima or other computerized RPG's in which virtual cities could be explored, this was about the closest one could get to exploring a city in a solitaire setting back in those days.

In many ways, City of Terrors was revolutionary. It attempted to create an actual world that one could really "explore" within the confines of an illustrated booklet. It didn't have a "plot," but that was okay because it was MEANT to be free-form with players getting into situations as they wandered through the streets. Not all of the wandering personalities would automatically draw swords and attempt to hack the player to bits. Compared to other adventures, there wasn't as much combat (this is in a city, after all), but the combat that occurred was often deadly.

Like Buffalo Castle, City of Terrors was written for the early edition (4th and lower) Tunnels & Trolls rules and, again, the advice to add +10 to the monster ratings of the denizens was often inadequate to compensate for the differences in the rules, especially in the case of the city dwellers who were not defined by monster ratings but were given weapons with dice and adds. This sometimes made some of the fights too easy, which is a shame, because this is a great adventure. To get maximum enjoyment out of it, I would advise people to use the 4th edition rules (which can still be found here and there). NOTE: I am not sure if the version with the color cover corrected this.

Michael Stackpole later went on to write a sequel to City of Terrors entitled Sewers of Oblivion - this also takes place in the city of Gull but BENEATH the streets (in the sewers), and it reverts to type in providing an adventure which is essentially a "dungeon crawl" (and a tough one at that).

More reviews by castiglione

Kveto's Thoughts:

I was curious to see how this solo role-play book would work. Interestingly, it is an A-4 sized pamplet, similar in design to D&D modules. I didn't play the system, I just used it as a pick a path style book, so this review isn't really complete.

No story here, just a random adventurer wandering through a dangerous city. There seems to be a lot to do, although I'm having trouble finding all of the possibilities as it is easy to get caught in a loop, constantly repeating the same encounters annoyingly.

So far, I've had the possibility of becoming an Ogre chieftain, a slave-trader, having a big A branded on my forehead for killing an archer (why they didn't just kill me, we'll never know), fighting a god, seducing an old woman, and more. I might be making it sound more fun than it is, as the passages are quite short and written in a snarky style. While I can appreciate this might have felt original way back when, now it just grates on me. I find things like walking into a pub and playing a one armed bandit trying to my patience. The book will offer you a chance not to fight, then call you a coward and make you fight anyway. What's the point of a choice at all? I find that the fourth wall breaking pulls me out of any sense of immersion in the fantasy world.

The best sequence is when you get your hand chopped off by a sheik (following dictates in the Koran) and get a monster hand grafted on. Along the way, you can make love to a medusa (but unless you switch on the light you never know who you pulled).

It might be more fun if I knew the system, but somehow I doubt it.

More reviews by Kveto

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