Wizard Books, £4.99, ISBN 1-84046-434-8
Fantasy, 2003 (Reissue)
Trial of Champions is a direct sequel to Deathtrap Dungeon, so you know pretty much what to expect here if you have played the previous book. You know, Baron Sukumvit of Fang, the Deathtrap Dungeon, the Trial of Champions… oh, just read the review of the previous gamebook to get the lowdown if you have no clue, heh.
After surviving the Deathtrap Dungeon, you are minding your business when you find yourself captured by slavers during a seafaring adventure gone wrong. Pressed into Lord Carnuss’s slave pen, you are now fighting for your life in his own personal American Gladiators-style challenges. The prize? A chance to participate in Baron Sukumvit’s new and improved Deathtrap Dungeon. You see, Lord Carnuss is Baron Sukumvit’s brother and those two despise each other. Lord Carnuss would love nothing more than to humiliate his brother by getting his champion to pass the Trial of Champions in its first re-vamp, and lucky you, you may be that champion if you can survive Lord Carnuss’s gladiator games.
The Deathtrap Dungeon is now more labyrinthine and provides a bigger illusion of non-linearity, although with this being a campaign by Ian Livingstone, you should be aware that there is only one correct path to victory. And yes, you have to collect items and clues to get to the finish line. Here’s the fun part: if you take the wrong path right from the beginning, you will learn of how screwed you are only late in the story, just one step away from victory. Also, the combat encounters here are pretty tough, with the whole thing made worse by the scarcity of opportunities to replenish your Stamina points.
But here’s the thing: Trial of Champions is ridiculously fun. It’s insanely tough, yes, but the whole campaign is one fun rollercoaster ride of mayhem. There are many memorable opponents here, from a liche queen to a monster tongue creature (don’t ask). I am also fond of the tubby monk-like Trialmaster. With intriguing combat set-ups all over the place, the new and improved Deathtrap Dungeon is a wonderful nightmarish playground for a scavenger hunt, and it’s one that appeals greatly to my sense of the absurd. While finishing the campaign can be very difficult, I find the pay-off to be absolutely worth it.