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Item - City of Terrors

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(third American printing)
(British edition)
(British edition)

Combined Summary

Series: Tunnels and Trolls — no. 9
Alternate Title: Deluxe City of Terrors (reissue)
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) (third American printing; first American printing)
Kirby, Josh (British edition)
Peregrine, Stephan (third American printing - cover)
Danforth, Elizabeth (Liz) T. (third American printing; first American printing)
Dates: 1978 (first American printing)
1986 (British edition)
ISBN: 055212768X / 9780552127684 (British edition)
Length: 59 pages (239 sections plus introduction) (third American printing)
96 pages (232 sections plus introduction) (British edition)
Special Thanks: British edition:
Thanks to Guillermo Paredes for the back cover image.
User Summary: You explore Gull, the City of Terrors, in search of adventure (or, if you previously went through Deathtrap Equalizer Dungeon, possibly a cure for your curse).
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

Guillermo's Thoughts:

The version of this book I read is the British edition published by Corgi in the eighties. I have seen it mentioned that the British editions of Tunnels and Trolls solos were often censored to leave out sexual content. Unfortunately I do not have access at this time to any other edition of City of Terrors I could use in order to check the exact differences, but judging from other comments in this page it appears a bit (but not all) of the sexual content was trimmed.

This is an "open world" gamebook where you can choose to visit city locations in any order (think the city part of Master of Chaos in the Fighting Fantasy series). However, the city of Ashkyos or even Port Blacksand feel like kids' playgrounds compared to Gull, the City of Terrors. The book is full of very tough fights (some of them impossible to win unless you take in a much more powerful character than the rules suggest) and lots of text sections that will just kill the player character outright. In this adventure, at least, Michael Stackpole makes no effort to be nice or compassionate to the player: it is possible to suffer extreme forms of physical trauma, having animal limbs attached to you, or be cursed with vampirism, and still be expected to keep on playing.

Aside from its brutality and unforgiving design, the adventure offers the player a very wide range of possibilities. The large number of courses of action the player may attempt means that City of Terrors offers as much (or more) replay value as any Fighting Fantasy book. Among the various outcomes included the player may become leader of an orc army, encounter extraterrestrial aliens or become a demigod. One of the book's biggest shortcomings is that, unlike later open world gamebooks, it doesn't account for past actions, so that it is entirely possible to encounter a character for a second time with no recollection of the first, or to encounter a monster you previously killed. Perhaps Stackpole expected the player to keep track of locations visited and things done by him or herself, but one can't help but think he could have spent the effort to make sure each playthrough was internally consistent. Josh Kirby's artwork is far from exceptional in my opinion, but it does convey adequately the mood of the adventure. Overall, in spite of its flaws, I enjoyed reading this solo very much. This is definitely something you should check out, especially if you're interested in a really tough challenge.

As a final note, this adventure can both act as a sequel to Deathtrap Equalizer Dungeon and lead the player into Naked Doom, so you may want to play it between these two.

Update, 11/12/2020: I've now been able to peruse an American edition of this solo (the "Deluxe" version which came out in 2013). Aside from including the sexual content which was absent in the British version (plus making it customizable for players with homosexual preferences), it contains a preface by Ken St. Andre where he comments on the difficulty of the adventure (and apologizes for how tough his own solos are to complete). This version also includes the original illustrations by Rob Carver and Liz Danforth, which I prefer over those in the British release.

More reviews by Guillermo

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

Users Who Own This Item: AlHazred (UK), bigcobra, bookwormjeff (UK), castiglione, dave2002a, DeKoovenWolf (British edition), Dirk Omnivore, drystan, Ed, firefoxpdm, greyarea13, Harvey, Himynameistony, katzcollection (American and British editions), Kveto, le maudit, marnaudo, mymgoth (Corgi Publication), outspaced, qazplm (UK), rebeltech2, Sir Olli (small British & large American reissue), sireeyore (UK), spragmatic, twar, TWolf, waktool
Users Who Want This Item: damieng, kinderstef, NEMO (brit&american), rebel

Known Editions

first American printing
third American printing
British edition

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