Friday 31 March 2023

The Citadel of Chaos - published on this day 40 years ago!

The Citadel of Chaos by Steve Jackson was published 40 years ago today on 31 March 1983.

"After Warlock had done so well, Puffin wanted to know if we could turn this into a series," recalls Steve Jackson. "And yes, we could. At a meeting in Philippa Dickinson’s office, she wanted to know what we should call this series. Ian came up with ‘Fighting Fantasy’. I think at the time it was just expected to be a working title. But it never got changed!”

Work started immediately on another two titles, with the authors of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain now working on one new book each.

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.

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?

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, while the cover was produced by the enigmatically-named Emmanuel.

Gark, by Russ Nicholson. (© Russ Nicholson, 1983 and 2014)

“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 cover recommissioned. Eventually they gave in and Ian Miller did a fine job.”

One of the rewards sent out to backers of the Kickstarter to fund production of YOU ARE THE HERO Part 2, the second part of Jonathan Green's history of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, was an 'album' of music inspired by the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. One of these was a track inspired by Steve Jackson's first solo gamebook...

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