Friday 12 March 2021

Blast from the Past! The Citadel of Chaos

First published this month, 38 years ago, The Citadel of Chaos was the second book in the Fighting Fantasy series and the first to be written just by Steve Jackson.

Jackson did not stray that far from the familiar format of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Although it was set within a castle, The Citadel of Chaos was effectively another dungeon bash, but with the addition of rules for using magic.

“I wanted to name my second book in such a way as it served to promote GW’s brand, i.e. Citadel Miniatures,” explains Jackson. “So the adventure had to be set in a Citadel. And some of the illustrations of the Citadel were reminiscent of the Citadel Miniatures logo. It was, if you like, a promotional in-joke.”

Russ NIcholson's illustration of the Black Tower - a.k.a. Balthus Dire's dread Citadel of Chaos - from The Trolltooth Wars, alongside the original Citadel Miniatures logo.

Atop his sinister Black Tower, the dread sorcerer Balthus Dire is making plans of conquest. The hero of the adventure is a student of the Grand Wizard of Yore, charged by King Salamon with penetrating the stronghold of the fell magic-user, and stopping the fiend before he can unleash his army upon the peaceful Vale of Willow.

Before beginning the adventure, the hero has to determine his MAGIC score and then choose a corresponding number of spells from a pool of twelve that includes such enchantments as Creature Copy, Fool’s Gold and Levitation. But where did the inspiration for Balthus Dire and the lethal Ganjees come from?

Ganjee, by Russ Nicholson.

Jackson: “Creating names for new characters monsters and places was always a brainstorming exercise. I’d write lots of contenders on a sheet of paper and eventually pick one which to my mind sounded evocative... ‘Balthus’ was the name of a French painter. At the time I was constantly on the lookout for inspiration for names for characters, places and creatures. I came across Balthus the artist – his name, not his art, which I have never seen! I thought: ‘Yes. That’s a cool name. Sounds kind of demonic, or like a dark religious pontiff.’ I used to use a thesaurus a lot for inspiration. ‘Dire’ sounded particularly bad. And thus Balthus Dire became the boss of the adventure.”

Internal art was by Russ Nicholson again, while the cover was produced by the enigmatically-named Emmanuel.

Emmanuel's original cover for Steve's Jackson's The Citadel of Chaos alongside Ian Miller's revised cover.

“The only art I really didn’t like was the cover of the original Citadel of Chaos,” reveals Jackson. “As this was the second book in the series, it could have been interpreted as a significant statement of art intent. But it was followed by Iain McCaig’s cover of The Forest of Doom which set a new standard. I asked Penguin many times to have The Citadel of Chaos cover recommissioned. Eventually they gave in and Ian Miller did a fine job.”

Did you know...?

Jackson once named his favourite character from the Fighting Fantasy books as being Balthus Dire, the villain from The Citadel of Chaos, while his favourite monster is the Jib-Jib, which first appeared in the final instalment of his Sorcery! series, The Crown of Kings.

Balthus Dire, the wizard-warlord, by Russ Nicholson.

When Wizard Books republished The Citadel of Chaos in 2002, Kevin Jenkins was tasked with providing a new cover for the book.
Kevin Jenkins' artwork for the Wizard editions of The Citadel of Chaos.

And of course, The Citadel of Chaos is back in print again, thanks to Scholastic Books, featuring cover art by Robert Ball.

Robert Ball's artwork for the Wizard editions of The Citadel of Chaos.

Since it was first published, back in 1983, The Citadel of Chaos has inspired computer games, and even an audio drama, The Terror of the Ganjees, that is now available from Audible.

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