The plot of Deathtrap Dungeon was inspired by a holiday Ian Livingstone had taken to Thailand. “I went trekking in Northern Thailand in 1981,” explains Livingstone. “I passed through Fang and crossed the River Kok on my way to the jungle near the Burmese border. I took lots of photos of villagers and scenery on the trek. It was an incredible adventure, and one not without drama. Our guide was constantly fretting about armed bandits coming over the border to rob us! The trek made a big impression on me, enough for me to want to reference the people and places in Deathtrap Dungeon which I began writing in late 1983. But the dungeon plot itself was a product of the dungeons I’d designed during the years I’d been playing D&D. When Penguin Books told us they wanted a sequel to The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, I thought I’d write a classic dungeon-bash next, but I put it on hold and wrote The Forest of Doom and City of Thieves before Deathtrap Dungeon.”
As well as the River Kok and Fang, the names of several other places Livingstone visited on that fortuitous trip made it into the book, including Chiang Mai. Baron Sukumvit himself was named after Sukumvit Road in Bangkok. The marriage of both eastern and western influences in the adventure created something entirely new, helping to give the world of Fighting Fantasy a truly unique flavour.
Deathtrap Dungeon was a huge success, selling over 350,000 copies in its first year alone. It was the best-selling children’s book in April 1984 and was ranked 8th out of all books sold that month, coming just behind Dick Francis in 7th place and ahead of Stephen King’s Christine in 9th. (Three of the top one hundred books sold that year were Fighting Fantasy gamebooks.) Deathtrap Dungeon was so successful that Livingstone’s eighth gamebook was a sequel, Trial of Champions (FF21, published in 1986). It even spawned a video game.Deathtrap Dungeon has a fantastic, totally immersive setting and it's really tricksy; I probably had up to six fingers nestled in the pages as bookmarks at one point,” says author and FF fan Magda Knight. “Some may argue that the original books were less richly plotted than their successors, but I loved the setup of the Trial of Champions, the original Hunger Games. It appealed to my competitive nature. The illustrations flash up in my memory to this day, and the concept of an underground maze full of traps worked so well with the nature of the books. I also loved how Fang was placed so near to Port Blacksand, which meant that I was beginning to build up a picture of a world through these adventures.”
Like City of Thieves before it, Deathtrap Dungeon was illustrated inside and out by Ian Livingstone’s favourite FF artist, Iain McCaig.
“My favourite black and white illustration is the image of the inscrutable Trialmaster on his dragon-hide throne from Deathtrap Dungeon,” muses McCaig. “It was the height of my love affair with croquill pens, and the quintessential riddle picture that would lead to Casket of Souls.”
For more stories about the creation of your favourite Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, pick up a copy of YOU ARE THE HERO - A History of Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks.