Wednesday, 31 December 2008

#47 - The Crimson Tide

By now the writers of FF were obviously either getting a bit bored with the old formula or feeling more confident with it - either way, The Crimson Tide feels more ambitious and less down to earth than most gamebooks.

You begin the book aged 13 years old, with skill and stamina rolls found via dice rolling without modifiers; and as you age, your scores improve, but your ferocity decreases (just like any self-respecting punk rocker).

Hell, the book's trying so hard to set itself apart, two or three paragraphs in you could be facing an enemy of skill 12 with yours potentially at one.

It's a huge blunder (apparently of the editor's doing), but not surprising in a book full of random deaths and other, less bloody failed endings. 

So - you begin as an Asian (lets not kid anyone here - rice fields, monasteries, vague references to the 'east', the 'Crimson Tide' being a colour and a euphemism away from 'Golden Horde' not to mention the cover, come on) tween whose family is killed by a marauding group of bastards (whom, going by the illustration on page one commit hara-kiri by stabbing themselves in the head), and you decide to get revenge. Eventually - it's obvious with the lowest starting skill and stamina in FF gamebooks that you're not going to avenge anyone right away. Despite this, if you don't face the invincible worm, you're soon nabbed by a guy who for the next two years trains you in the art of arena fighting - muchly helfpful for the stamina and skill, of course. 

The first enemy I have to face robs me of two skill points, and realising this is no way to avenge my father's death and rescue my mother, I escape by doing a reverse streak into the crowd, eventually falling out of the stadium onto a hot dog stand and escaping by stealing a horse - luckily despite the 'eastern' setting, there's no honour score to keep track of!

Instead the author makes you take notes on certain actions you've done, which can repercussions down the track, which is pretty cool.

Anyway, I soon stumble upon the bastards' camp, and they don't recognise me at all. I find the leader, and yep, it's the guy who killed my father. Starting a fight here would be suicide, so I tell him I want to join, and he laughs at me. Damn it.

A new plan is needed, so I wander out, south, and arrive in a town where everyone treats me suspiciously. Being 15, I'm not sure how I ended up fighting a drunk in a bar, but it eventually led me to a barber who told me of a rebel group meeting that night. Again not sure what relevance this had to my mission, I decided to go anyway.

So do 50 others (so it's obviously not some half-arsed socialist club, then), and they're soon whipped into a Hammerskins-esque frenzy so I sneak out. I like The Wall movie, but nah. I'm only 15!

I wander on for weeks without an increase in stamina, carting around the same three provisions I've had since stealing a 'roasted meat stick' from the meat cart, and soon bump into a 'puzzler'. These clowns wander the countryside asking people questions, and if you can't answer their puzzle, convention dictates you owe them a feed, or something equivalent. The text describes him as barely older than I am, but the illustration puts him at about 60. He asks me a differentiation maths question that sounds hard but once I start working it out seems easy, even without my award-winning teenage maths skills (couldn't do differentiation now, mind you). 

But amusingly enough, if you turn to the page you're meant to if you know the answer, the puzzler just assumes you are right and wanders off...! You don't even have to know the answer, which is funny, cause I never did work it out - I quickly realised I could if I had to, the long way, and turned to the appropriate page. 

*Maybe Spoiler If I Did It Right*: the formula is days=(2x)-1, where x=the height.  I think. It's been a long time since I needed maths...

A year passes, and I arrive in the capital, Shoudu. This part of Allansia, or wherever it is, is obviously larger than Japan. I queue up to see the God-King, whose servant takes me aside and pretty much tortures me to death. Err, wut?

The book's premise is not entirely original, but the writing is good, the openness of the adventure feels good, and even running into the supposed lead bad dude early on is a twist I didn't expect; but the seemingly inhospitable nature of the gameplay is a turnoff. It just seems so damn hard. 

But still, one that seems like a replay would be worthwhile, and give a return perhaps even greater than the first attempt.

Happy new year!

Monday, 29 December 2008

#46 - Tower of Destruction

I remember this one from when I was a kid, but with that WTF cover, who wouldn't? The title's a little bemusing for anyone who doesn't get too far in the book, as you start with the intention of tracking down the floating sphere that destroyed your village and parents (at least this time, a rarity in FF, it's personal).

But in this lengthy adventure - the book only looks thinner 'cause the font, though cool, seems to have shrunk 20% since the last book - it's soon apparent the sphere is merely a practise run for what is obviously a more efficient and aerodynamic flying device, a tower.

There are a few added elements which make Tower of Destruction pretty cool - a time score, and an honour score. They're both pretty self-explanatory, and work well together, pushing and pulling you away and towards helping out your fellow sphere victims and onward to your goal(s).

So, I start by doing my best Jack Shephard to help a few victims, before heading north in pursuit of the sphere. Helpfully, it's done its best Mr Plow and melted a whole lot of snow, making the journey relatively easy. Soon enough I'm forced to divert, so choosing between the path with nothing and the path with living, breathing, and talking owls, I go that way. The owl tells me to see Tasrin the Sage, so I decide a day off the broken, beaten and scarred path is worth it to see a guy who's mates with a talking owl. 

I soon arrive at his place, avenge his death by killing the demon that killed him, and ransack his house for useful things as he tells me his dying words - find the Ice Palace, yada yada yada. The instructions kind of made it obvious I'd need to find this Ice Palace, so thanks for a day wasted, Tasrin. 

Three days into my pursuit, it's time to move on. Being snowy everywhere, I make camp one night Luke Skywalker-style in a dead snow fox, taking its carcass with me in the morning. I'm only able to carry a maximum of 10 provisions, but an entire snow fox is okay? I assume I'm wearing it Freddy Got Fingered-style.

Day four, and ToD is one of them gamebooks where you're forced to eat meals without any noticeable benefit. In fact, apart from trudging through snow, you spend more time eating than anything else bar fighting demons of different varieties.

I spend the next night in a cave, wake up in the morning, eat, leave and notice a dragon floating about - just my luck, I spent the night in a dragon's cave. Hmmm. He flies down and asks me if there is any reason he shouldn't have 'iced human' for tea. Flattery fails to calm him down, and oddly enough for someone that wants 'iced' human, he flames me - then again, I don't know of any dragons who breathe ice (damn, I was hoping to get to the end of this entry without using the word 'ice' - something the author seemed unable to do with each paragraph). 

After dispatching the dragon, I soon came across a destroyed barbarian camp, where the text informed me it was obvious the sphere had lowered itself to wreak more havoc, as the trail of burnination had widened - odd, cause in my understanding of physics and burnination, if you come closer to something, the beam should be narrowed. 

Anyway... day six, and I've reached the sphere. I'm not sure how, but post-the barbarian camp, I no longer question the rules of science in this part of Allansia. It's small, only 12 metres across,and  I find the entrance, wander in and there are passages, doors, stairs, more demons, etc etc. Turns out it's some kind of evil Tardis! Wandering through it, I eventually come its core where there's a wizard, a demon statue and a warrior orc. The wizard starts flinging magic darts as I battle the ogre, but I quickly notice that every time the wizard magics some darts, one of the statue's eye gems glows. Sacrificing a part of my body to the orc so I can ignore him and dislodge the gem, the gamble pays off when the wizard disappears. After killing the orc, I quickly scull back some brandy and a potion of stamina, hoping they mix well, and pick up the orc's sword. It's magic, but only if my skill is below 12, which mine already is. WTF? You mean I'm just as good at fighting with a normal sword as I am with a magic one? Weird, considering the enemies in this book aren't exactly a walkthrough, and any provisions you have are gobbled up with mandatory meals for the overweight snowman you play.

Anyway, onto driving this thing - it's impossible, electrocuting me as I try to, but a rumbling warns me something bad is about to happen, so I bail. There's someone crying out for help, but screw it - this thing's weird enough as it is. I escape easily, and it explodes.

The book's called Tower of Destruction though, so it's no surprise when the wizard reappears in hologram form to tell me the sphere was just a practise run - cause running a flying sphere of doom is just the same as a tower, uh huh. 

So. The talking owl then turns up and berates me for leaving the dying man behind. There wasn't an option to argue with the owl, but I would have said something along the lines of, 'You're a talking owl who can see and know things he shouldn't be able to - YOU find the freakin' tower! YOU save the man! AArhgrahharARgh. And can I please have some food, I seem to have an eating disorder."

Walking on, drinking brandy in place of food (so close to my student days, perhaps without brandy, but with Pushkin), I dig through the no-longer plowed snow, and crash in another cave, like I didn't learn my lesson last time. Another night or two, and three or four feeds later, I'm at the Ice Palace.

Thinking what the hell and walking up to the front door, it turns out it's not even real, and I'm soon encased in a volley of ice spears - so cold, they kill me.

Can't say I remember this part at all, but no matter. Tower of Destruction seems like a good read, it's focused and atmospheric, though I'm not sure whether that's the snowy, South Park-esque setting or the new, shrunken font. The story, being a trek in pursuit of a target which is carving out the primary path is quite linear, at least as far as I got. I read somewhere the 'true path' contains a massive 180 paragraphs, which would explain why I played for my normal length of time and only completed the apparent first third of the adventure - the sphere. There's an entire Ice Palace section and then the titular tower itself I never even made it to!

Well written though, and pretty solid. The artwork's pretty good too, if a little on the 'here's your enemy looking tough in a front-on portrait' heavy.

Happy new years. Catch you in '09!

PS: Make sure you have a Skill of at least 11.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

#45 - Spectral Stalkers

I wasn't sure what to expect from Spectral Stalkers, considering the god-awful cover and that I'd never read it as a kid. Surprisingly though, it was good, a little odd and definitely one worth replaying - I get the feeling I barely touched the surface in my playthrough, despite unwittingly making it as far as the 'final conflict'. Kind of.

You start SS as an unemployed adventurer wasting what little money he has on tarot card readings, though it's hard to tell just how poor you really are - in the introduction your purse is 'full', then when the adventure proper starts, you have 'only eight' gold pieces. Them's either some large gold pieces, or you're carrying one tiny purse.

The tarot reader gave me some unsettling news, and I was soon entrusted with the Aleph, a small globe that contains the entire universe in every dimension. There are some bad guys, the titular Spectral Stalkers, who also want it, and can detect my 'psychic energy' through a 'disturbance in the ether'. They're evidently of the Sith rather than Jedi persuasion, however, or so I'm told. 

I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with this globe, but the guy who left me with it said the name 'Archmage Globus' as he died, so I assume, with this thing being a globe and all, I should find him. 

Did I mention the globe thing is magic, and lets you travel through dimensions and whatnot? I'm not sure why the mission, whatever it was, didn't end right there on page one - congratulations, you got the magic ball of awesome, turn to page 400?

It transported me first to the Library in Limbo, which the dragon assistant tells me has every copy of every book ever written, kind of like Google but in real life, but in Limbo, which is apparently not a part of the universe the globe contains. Err, yeah. I ask the dragon about Globus, she tells me to find the 'Directory of Wizards' - it's a giant black book with 'Wizards' written on the spine. Hmmm. I soon find it though, it's as tall as a spear and opens to the exact page I need - I see the ether works in similar ways to the Force. Globus lives on the Ziggurat World, which sounds awesome, so I figure I'll try and find him as soon as I find a way out of this epic library.

Wandering around, I come across the 'Office of the Artefacts Specialist' - thankyou, Force - and wander in, only to be hit by a bucketfull of water, left on top of the door. 

The Office of the Classic Pranks Specialist is manned by Wayland (Smithers?), a grade-A clown. In some books a bucket of water would be 'refreshing' and accompanied by a stamina increase, not the decrease here. Ah well.

Rejecting whatever is in the drink he hands me, I ask Wayland about the Aleph. He tells me once I'm back in the real world to keep moving to avoid the Spectral Stalkers, he's no idea who Globus is, and that now I have to leave Limbo, which is odd cause here in Limbo I'm safe from the Spectral Stalkers, and yeah, I don't even know what I'm supposed to do with the Aleph and yeah. Um, why do I have to leave? 

Anyway, a dwarf tells me to think about where I want to go as I step through the exit, so I think of the Ziggurat World, and and soon find myself there, just like that. I wasn't aware at this stage of the book the Ziggurat World is where the 'final conflict' takes place, but hey. A Spectral Stalker instantly appeared, but as I'd left no disturbance in the force at all by this point, it soon vanished. Why it would vanish upon finding you and not, I don't know, check to see if you had the MacGuffin, beats me. They seem to pop up regularly without even knowing I have it - is everyone else in this world similarly beseiged?

Wandering on, I meet a bunch of Mantirs, like human manticores, who are pissed I killed one of the insect-bull things. Before we can finish our rumble though, a group of 'Black Shadows' come from the sky and begin carrying away the insect-bulls. They're definitely black according to the text, but are purple on the cover - try and work that one out! Anyway, the Mantirs curse Globus for the attack, which puts a little doubt in my mind as to whether Globus' intentions with the Aleph are wholesome. 

I run away, up a cliff apparently, cause that's always the best way to avoid things that can fly (?!). I spy some towers up on thin, rocky peaks, and assume Globus is in one - they're on the cover, after all. Unfortunately the Black Shadows are back, and without a purple one to make an example of I'm soon captured and poisoned down to four points of stamina. 

I awaken in a room tied to a pillar, among others facing a similar fate. The Black Shadows poison me again, down to two stamina, and carry me away.

This time I awaken in Globus' throne room, and the book informs me this is the 'final conflict'. Err, I wasn't aware Globus was even a bad guy? Maybe those Mantir deserved it? Before I can think any more, I'm blasted by a laser of some sort and crushed to death.

So... It's all a little mysterious, to be honest, but it seems that by thinking of the Ziggurat World on exiting Limbo, I've catapulted myself to the last phase of the book. What an odd mechanic. Others say there are loads of other worlds and times to visit, and whether the book works for you or not depends on how much you like the FF books that try to push the envelope a little. I for one liked what I read, and not knowing exactly what was happening despite making it that far into the book leads me to believe it has replayability in spades.

If I hadn't read that giant Wizards book though, how would I have known to ask for the Ziggurat World in the first place? Maybe I should have taken the option to go back to Khul and live like an unemployed billionaire, or like a magic Quinn from Sliders

An oddity in the FF canon, but a good one.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

#23 - Masks of Mayhem

Yeah, it's another one from the 20s - I've had some luck filling a few gaps in my collection in the past couple of weeks. I had no idea what to expect from Masks of Mayhem, except that I'd heard it wasn't very good. 

Well, I enjoyed it enough, though it wasn't particularly memorable, at least the journey I took. Apparently there's a big twist if you make it all the way to the end, but I didn't, so nyargh.

Anyway, you play as the ruler of Arion, and for some reason you decide to wander off into the unknown in order to defeat an evil sorceress by yourself - Arion can't be much of a kingdom, if there's no one you can pay to do it on your behalf. The book says only the reader can undertake the mission because of a 'purity of purpose'. Huh?

After a little pep talk from my Welsh wizard Ifor Tynin and my armourer Truehand, who both seem to know far more about this mission than I do, I wandered north into perhaps the emptiest region of Khul (if the supplied map is anything to go by). It apparently took five days to traverse the first centimetre of green space. Hmmm. This could be a long book.

Heading west around Lake Nekros, I wandered into the forest soon found myself the target in a game of William Tell being played by some Wood Elves. They took me to meet their chief - I asked for safe passage through the forest, hoping to end up on the other side in Fallow Dale, but instead they dumped me on the complete other side of the lake. Thanks a lot, jebus. 

It's all misty and I can barely see a a few feet in front of me, but head on anyway - I grew up in Hamilton, perhaps the only city in the world with a statue of Riff Raff which is still far better known for its fog. It pays off when I come across and defeat something called a Wight, which is basically a floating, melting zombie with an open firetop skull. I got the impression if I could just tip it over, its brains would fall out and I'd get to take its ancient, skill-enhancing sword without as much of a fight as it put up.

Onward, the mist got thicker, and the book ignored my Hamilton experience and fell me down a hole, into a mine, where I found a green copper nugget. How... odd. Anyway, I soon came across a pool of water I decided to jump, and here the book fucked me off. I had to test my luck, instead of my skill, then when I was lucky, I was told to test it again - with no explanation - was unlucky, and apparently cleared the pool but landed on a slippery piece of lichen, and killed myself in the fall. Funny, cause I just fell down a freakin' mine shaft, and only lost a single stamina point. 

I decided this was silly, so solved it in a matter just as silly - I pretended that after passing the first test of luck, I wolfed down my potion of luck before now successfully missing the patch of super-slippery lichen.

So, out of the mine, I arrive in Fallow Dale and immediately hit the pub. Unfortunately, Masks of Mayhem has a real obsession with food, one of the examples being the only thing I can do in the pub, if I so wish and can afford to, is eat. In the immortal words of Gob, come on! 

I meet up with the local king, Hever, who's holding some kind of banquet. I eat (for about the thirty-seventh time) and get drunk, and retire early. Somehow the feed gave me stamina, but also made me want to sleep - go figure. Now, Hever apparently has this magic horn I need, but he won't give it to me unless I track down this sabre-tooth tiger that's been harassing his peasants. 

So, I get a pack of dogs and we head into the forest - the book lays out a gameboard, and through a sequence of dice rolls your dogs pick up and lose the scent, the tiger wanders around, it's all luck though so a quick roll would have sufficed, no? Anyway, it's actually kind of fun, and I catch up to the tiger just in time.

I set my dogs on him, who apparently are invincible as they savage him without any chance of being hurt back, but strangely despite this I apparently call them off the attack so I can finish it off. Bad choice - at least it would be, if I had one! The dogs were doing a great job, I was hopeless against it. 

This time I was well and truly killed - though it only had a single stamina point left, I didn't feel another 'oh but I was so close and hard done by' reasoning was appropriate.

So, Masks of Mayhem - it didn't feel like anything special, but it certianly wasn't the disaster I was dreading. The writing was a bit flat, the journey at times even felt a little empty, but there were characters with a bit of substance, and if you avoid the odd bits (if that' possible) and eat plenty of food, it could work, yeah.

I'm not kidding about the food, by the way. I haven't mentioned it much, probably cause I'm so sick of reading about it!

Friday, 19 December 2008

#29 - Midnight Rogue

So I skipped past Midnight Rogue 15 or so books ago 'cause I didn't have a copy, and referred to it then as "fondly-remembered". It's perhaps unfortunate my copy arrived in the mail this week, coming right after the much-lauded font change and the excellent Legend of the Shadow Warriors. Why? Because from one reading, I get the impression Blacksand deserved more.

I distinctly remember the *twist* ending from childhood, and despite this found the mission a little... serious. It was great the book gave you new skills and a limited inventory for sure, but compared to the freedom to wander that has emerged in comparatively recent FF entries, Midnight Rogue feels a little forced.

So anyway, you're a prospective member of the thieves' guild, a reasonably overground-sounding operation for a relatively underground-ish trade, even recognising this is Blacksand, after all. You're assigned a mission to retrieve some kind of jewel, perhaps even the one on the cover so lusted after by inanimate stone gargoyles, but who knows.

First off I decide to hit up the Merchants' Guild, considering the intro suggests I visit the merchant Brass, who apparently has the object of desire. His symbol is a coin, so when I'm soon given the option of trying the door with the coin or that of the fish, I choose the coin. I'm here to get the prize, not find Jesus

Getting into the guild HQ is a mission in itself. There's not only a guard so corrupt I can't pay him off, but tribbles. Except here they're called jib-jibs, there's only one, and it has a skill and stamina I can count on however many fingers it is I need to insult you in whatever country you're in. 

Once into the merchants' guild, there's a beggar - further proof the credit cunt is hitting even those stuck in medieval fantasy gamebooks - he gives me a skeleton key set I don't need, and through a series of situations where I'm not given the option to leave or even knock, I get into trouble and am arrested. 

It's not written into the game script, but thinking logically, so many of these situations could have been defused by a simple knock first. I know I'm a thief and all, but hey. Common sense?

On this play through, I can't say Midnight Rogue lived up to what I'd expected, though I'm not sure that's fully down to the fact it's not that good - it could be that it's just not as good as the 40s bunch of books, or that I took the wrong routes. Wandering through Blacksand has to be one of my favourite things to do in FF, and this just didn't pull it off for me tonight.

A little disappointing considering how much I was looking forward to it, but worth a shot definitely.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

#44 - Legend of the Shadow Warriors

I've mentioned it once or twice, but finally, it came - the font change! My memories suggest from here on in the books were of consistently high quality, but we'll see about that, eh?

But I have to say the new font certainly got off to a good start with Legend of the Shadow Warriors. It's always difficult to get a handle on gamebooks with the depth of LOTSW with a single read through I know, but unlike some earlier examples in the FF canon, here it works, no matter how far you get. The writing is good, the world feels alive and truly dynamic, your options match the map well so it never feels like you're randomly wandering, your character's motivations feel natural, and the book's rule innovations work, damnit! A rarity, I know!

You can only carry/wear one weapon/set of armour at a time, and they actually make a difference, for one.

Anyway, onto the story. There's a massive load of background that has no real bearing on the story at hand, but you're quickly on your mission regardless. Some farmers have been having trouble with a bunch of 'Shadow Warriors', who were previously thought to be a kind of myth. After trying everyone else and being laughed at, they approach you with the mission, and not being picky, you accept.

So first things, I figure if I'm in this for the money, yeah I should do some gambling. A clown (he's dressed like one) called Bartolph (and has the name of one) offers me a round of 'roll the dice' that sounds deceptively simple, and is. I roll a winning number, and it flips over to a losing one. Bastard! I call him on his tricks, and promptly get thrown out of the bar. Hmmm. 

Feeling like I'm missing out on some kind of cosmic joke here (the cover has a dude in a kung-fu pose carrying a sword with a pumpkin for a head, for crying out loud), I wander over the markets, and decide to check out the gears. Lanterns are always useful in FF gamebooks, and if there's a grappling hook and rope on offer, you know there's going to be a cliff at some point (and on typing this, I just flicked the TV over and there's 'Cliff' Burton playing a bass solo, freaky). 

Heading to the 'exotic' stalls, I'm interrupted by some fat bastard telling me I owe the city nearly 600GP in taxes. Err, what? Another freakin' trickster, but I can't afford to pay, and probably can't get away, so I let them arrest me. 

They take my weapon, and throw me in jail. This mission is going from bad to worse. Anyway, despite having a luck score I could count on one hand, I try my luck tricking the jailer into opening the door, and it works. 

Escaping the jail, I decided to high-tail it out of the city before I was captured again. Something LOTSW does really well is make it feel like you are in total control of your actions - whether that's a testament to the writing or the structure of the game, I'll leave up to you. I think it's both.

Anyway, I came across a rubbish cart, decided against hiding in it, and headed on to the town gates where, goddamnit, the tax collector and his goons were waiting. I've had enough unwarranted harassment from the tax guys in reality, so thought fuck 'em, I'm running - and ran right through without so much as a scratch. If only it was as easy as rolling a four in real life.

So although I'd made it out in one piece, I quickly realised I was not only pretty much exiled from the town, without a weapon, food or any useful gears. Hmm.

An encounter with one of the so-called Shadow Warriors and a load of lucky rolls later, it was on to visit the hermit Hammicus. On the way there a 'highwayman' (it didn't say which one, though I like to think it was Johnny Cash) told me the hermit was dead and I would be too if I didn't pay him. I figured hey, I'm almost dead, broke and struggling anyway, I'd might as well pay him off what little money I did have. Turns out he was lying, as Hammicus was alive and well and willing to give me the background the actual background didn't.

Turns out these Shadow Warriors are not only real, but nigh on invincible and magically attached to Vovoid, some kind of... it doesn't really say. Evil, no doubt, and perhaps a metal band on the side. Wow, this entry is fast turning into some kind of metal tribute post. Even more so when as I'm reading the passage where tells me how to kill the Shadow Warriors individually, or at least render them impotent, is to rip off their masks, a video by Slipknot comes on the tele. 

Woah. This book is hardcore.

Anyway, the book tells me if I defeat a Shadow Warrior in combat, to turn to a different page than the one specifies - and it specifies the the particular incorrect page. This is a technique I don't think I've seen before in FF in this specific way, and is quite clever - I'm not sure if it's a gamebreaker, so not sure if it's an anti-cheat device, but if it is it's ingeniously simple and clever. There are loads of other situations which aren't so much 'if you have this, turn to X, if you don't then Y happens', but several option-trees, which makes me, and anyone else playing I suppose, think gees, there's so much I've missed - and I've only been playing for half an hour!

It's impressive, and shows how well put together the book is, even if you haven't played it a thousand times.

So, I move onto Hustings, where I pretty much bail on the poor villagers - they're preparing for the arrival of the pumpkin-headed ninjas, but I have two stamina points and no desire to lose any more. Funnily enough, on leaving town the book tells me 'though [I] feel that [I] have done [my] best to help' - yeah, I totally did my best. Actually, I think I put more effort into replacing the pronouns in the text for that last quote than I did helping the people of Hustings. 

Karma gets me though when on leaving I'm ambushed by a Shadow Warrior and run to the safety of a nearby tower. Some hot girl (this time there's nothing in the text nor images to suggest she is, I'm just going to pretend for the purposes of this sentence) takes me upstairs and feeds me food laced with sleeping drugs - which I initially think is great, 'cause I have only two stamina points still, and could do with the extra two or four a good sleep brings, depending on the book.

I woke tied to a table in some kind of laboratory, the next victim of a mad woman who wants to transfer my brain to a Frankenstein zombie ogre thing. D'oh.

LOTSW being the book it is, still provides me with several options, or possible options at least, of escape. I have none, so die, but don't feel so bad! The book gave me options, I blew it, it's my own fault! 

At least that's how it comes across, which is a testament to how good this book should rank amongst the 59 others, at least from a single reading. I don't think I was swayed by the fancy new font, noooo... 

Absolutely recommended, and bodes well for the rest of the series.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

The Keep of the Lich-Lord

The Keep of the Lich-Lord is by far and away the easiest FF gamebook to date, surely. It doesn't sound that way from the synopsis though - a decades-dead evil guy has come back to life because some Indiana Jones-wannabe removed the magic spear, the one that was keeping him dead, from his chest, and now he's built an army of the undead and is generally causing trouble. 

You on the other hand, are in it for the money, which is rarely a good enough reason to err, save the world - even Han Solo had to eventually admit he cared. 

The bad guy is Lord Mortis, and even after finishing the book I still have no idea what a 'lich' is. Some kind of Mason Viking, based on the illustrations and very Stonecutters-esque scene I stumbled on in his keep.

Differences the book tries, and largely fails, to implement are two scores - resolve, which measures how large your testicles are in the face of zombies, and alarm, which measures how clumsily you wield those balls. I say fail, 'cause the resolve score goes up every time you successfully test it, meaning eventually it's impossible to fail; and lets just say I managed to get to the lord of the lichs himself without a single person realising I'd even infiltrated his building. No one that stayed alive, of course. His jester doesn't count.

So on arrival in Siltport, a formerly bustling town feeling the effects of the credit crunch, I immediately hit the local bar, Sword of the Samurai. Wait, what? Having a little chuckle at the club Obi Wan-style joke, I chatted to some of the locals, and before you know it we were slammed. Fortunately for me, this is one of them gamebooks where nothing the night before affects you the next day, cause it wouldn't be the last time on my journey across Stayng Island I'd make a night of it.

Wandered to the vilage of Menela, and was immediately taken to the 'headman', Belar. He tells me there's some creature causing a bit of trouble locally, so I agree for the hefty sum (by FF standards) to kill it. Even better, the local blacksmith sharpens my sword for me, giving it three stamina damage instead of two in fights. To think, I'm on a mission to save the world, and they sent me to do it with a blunt weapon. 

Anyway, I kill it, and head up the hills to Mortis' tomb. The skull on the door to the tomb glows, but it doesn't scare me, presumably  'cause as a kid my mum once put this glow-in-the-dark Jesus in my bedroom, and when she turned the light off it was the only thing I could see, and it freaked me out. I must've had a strong resolve score as a kid not to fall for that garbage early on.

Anyway, I wander into Mortis' tomb and pinch the magic spear from the aforementioned Indiana Jones-wannabe, which happens to do double damage to all undead creatures! Sweet, 'cause almost everything in this book is undead. Often I'll walk into a room and there'll be an awkward moment while everyone tries to work out if I'm undead, it's that bad. The upside is once they realise I'm not, we all get sloshed. If for no other reason, I like this book.

Anyway again, moving on the a pirate from the first night of drinking ambushes me with some of his mates, I dispatch them easily and find they're loaded with gold too. For once, I'm thinking where the hell is Yaztromo? I could totally clean him out of stock right now. 

Skipping the abandoned quarry - I've already got the magic spear which has killed Mortis once - I crashed for the night, and woke up apparently with a hankering for more booze - so much that I'm apparently heading for an inn which is definitely not marked on the map on the inside cover of the book, in spite of what my character thinks. I get there somehow, and meet a merchant who sells me some body armour that reduces any damage I take by one point - meaning later on when I'm peppered with arrows by undead archers, it doesn't hurt. I'm feeling pretty damn invincible by now.

I also meet a soldier called Kandogor, who tells me Braxis (oh yeah, Braxis is the dude who used to run Bloodrise Keep - oh yeah, Bloodrise Keep is where Mortis is holed up) is still alive. We decided to team up, and get a room together (no, this isn't where the romantic subplot begins). Pretty soon a woman enters the room - Kandogor almost kills her, but it turns out she's some kind of uber-Elf babe. The book describes her as having skin like moonlight, eyes like liquid emeralds, and so on. I think the author might have been up late, alone when he wrote this part of the book. It's perhaps the most Mills and Boon passage I've ever come across in a FF gamebook.

Anyway, instead of getting hammered this night now there's some female company, we all crash out. The next day we're off hunting Lady Lotmora, a vampire holed up in the local cemetary. 

We dispatch her, stuff happens, and I'm soon at Bloodrise Keep. I wander on in, feeling pretty good about my chances, especially so when within minutes I'm at the Chapel of the White Queen. She teaches me a cool trick, which is the last I hear of it, and I move on. 

Wandering through the keep, I'm asked to test my alarm value a few times - which is odd, considering I've accrued but a single point of alarm, and the book is asking me to roll several dice and add amounts that are higher than my total. I've literally tip-toed my way through an evil army's headquarters, right to the Lich-Lord's door. 

On opening it, I threw the magic spear at him, and ta-dah, the book was over and I'd won. WTF?

That was quite easy. I drank more ales than I ate meals, I didn't have to use the key I found or the magic 'Ring of Communication' once, and I didn't have spectacular rolls. On the plus side... wait, it's about time there was an easy FF book! That is the book's major plus, in a way. But it's also entertainingly written with nice attention to detail like overheard conversations and amusing graffiti ('Bloodfang rules OK!').

But on the downside, yeah, it was too easy. Fun though, and apparently there are several ways to win it, which I know adds to its ease but means you won't mind reading it again if you don't complete it first time through, which makes it a good recommendation.

And yeah, I know I said I'd be out this weekend, but hey, I decided to skip the work party :)

Friday, 5 December 2008

Weekend off...

EDIT: Looks like I can't be arsed going to the Xmas party, so will be posting as usual. Woo.

It's my work Christmas party this weekend - yes, I do have a day job, Fighting Dantasy doesn't pay all... or any of my bills, unfortunately - so I probably won't be posting.

In other news, I've managed to place bids on online auctions for a few of the books I'm missing, including the entire Sorcery! series, so fingers crossed for those.

I recently joined a couple of Fighting Fantasy groups on Facebook, and posted the blog address. Some guy on one had the gall to suggest, "So if we are a community now and everything, I just thought I would bring it up. is a retarded name for a website. No offense."

I replied, as politely as at the same time as snarky as I could, "Well, it's a pun, isn't it? The books are called Fighting Fantasy, and my name is Dan. Hence, Fighting Dantasy. If that's a little too silly for you, perhaps you shouldn't be reading books which picture mustache-wearing men skiing the backs of sabre-toothed tigers on water."

Booyah. Drink up, I'll catch you later on next week. Unless I chicken out of the work party and stay home rolling dice and drinking at home as I usually do.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

#42 - Black Vein Prophecy

In the tradition of Creature of Havoc, FF42 doesn't tell you right away who you are or what it is you're doing. But going one step beyond, Black Vein Prophecy (great title, by the way) doesn't even give you your skill, stamina or luck rolls until part way through the book, and the rules are at the first I thought gees, that increases the chances of accidentally seeing page 400 - a fear justified when I turned to page 400 while looking for the rules - but 400's just another paragraph here, so the authors were obviously thinking when they wrote this book.

It's apparent from reading it they were thinking too - BVP, from what I can tell from one failed reading, is an interesting, captivating book - even if I spent the whole of my own journey not knowing what the fuck I was meant to be doing.

I came to from unconsciousness in a sarcophagus, which has to be the all-time greatest start to a FF adventure. No lengthy intro with wizards and armies whose names you forget the minute you turn to page 1. The text tells me the first thing I did was force the lid off so strongly it hit the ceiling - this bodes well! There was another body in the crumbling room I found myself in, who was apparently killed by an unexpected strike from behind (and not a flying coffin lid). Suddenly the room was filled with 100 robed figures - it seems I could count fast, so surely I'd a skill of 12 - but knowing what to do next, I jumped back in my sarcophagus. 

Not a good choice - or maybe it was? The text told me I'd found a 'suitable resting place'. D'oh, but also a little hehehe. Cheeky book.

Invoking the god of 'that's not enough for a decent blog entry', I brought myself back to life and decided to get the fuck out of there. I came across a group of motionless figures, one of whom bowed to me. I bowed back, and nothing happened. Arighty then, let's move on... 

I soon came across some stairs, and a loud voice boomed 'too soon...', much like Yoda, if Yoda's voice boomed. I didn't have much choice though, much like Luke, and pressed on - only for the stairs to turn to rubble and bury me at the bottom. Climbing out, I found another set of stairs - you'd think I was a little wary of stairs at this stage, but anyhoo - at the top was a sword and a haversack of provisions - how convenient! It was here I rolled for my skill - rolled a five, and was told to add four. FOUR!? Oh man. I ended up with nine. But what about that awesome coffin lid trick? Surely that was at least an 11-level move. 

So I escaped... whatever it was I was in.... to emerge in a trashed city with 'bizarre' battle wreckage. That's all it said - 'bizarre'. Like, how? Were the shields pink? Were the swords made of candy? Was my sword made of candy? Is this why my skill was only plus four?

Searching the streets, if not for equipment at least for an idea of what was going on, I came across my mirror image. Ooh - if real me has no idea what I'm doing, mirror-me must know! No such luck. Instead we had to fight. What seemed like a 50-50 duel I won easily due to some good rolls, some use of luck, and (this is the one I'm going with) the fact if he was my mirror image, he must've been holding his sword with the wrong hand. I know there's a logical flaw here, but I'm going to pretend it doesn't exist.

The rest of the town was trouble I won't go into, so I soon decided to make an exit - how? Via catapult, of course. Cause that's what you do when you're down to seven stamina points and wearing a tiara (don't ask!). Didn't the Mythbusters cover this? Landing in the water, I was soon rescued by a hot girl ( I know from the pics of her sleeping - not kidding) called Velkos. She was a bit of a biatch though, making me work on the sails, where apparently I quickly learned the most important skill in sailing - how to avoid the boom. 

Soon enough we were attacked by... pirates? A giant squid? No, a mad criminal floating in some kind of inflated bladder membrane, silly. What did you expect? We soon crashed out. I started to wonder if perhaps FF42 would be the first to implement some kind of romantic subplot, or at least the first I've found, but no. We made landfall, wandered through the forest and still nothing happened. It's not like I'd anything else to do, still not knowing who I was, or where I was going or why I was going there. If this was Knights of the Old Republic, it would have been around here I'd have started to flirt with Velkos as if she was Bastila. Instead, we ended up in a cave with a bunch of random creatures I'd no real idea why we were chasing. 

When I came across a pile of gems worth 3000 gold pieces, I stopped caring. In fact, I felt I was far enough into the book without any idea why I was still wandering through this part of Allansia, that settling down with Velkos and the 3000GP sounded more like victory than figuring out what this prophecy was meant to be anyway.

She was then killed by a fire elemental which seemed to ignore me, damn it. Instead I had to fight a slave trader whose poisoned blade took off a valuable skill point despite not touching me once in the entire battle. I was down to eight stamina points, and without any more food.

By this point, though BVP was still well-written and enjoyable, I was getting a little annoyed at the zero plot progress. It was all starting to seem a little random - never more so than when a giant bird thing picked me up and dumped me in its nest. Err, okay.

Moving on, a few encounters later I found myself in a village whose only trades seemed to be alcohol (at a tavern whose name, derived from the ancient Allansian tongue of Latin, in English translated to 'The Water Blood') and weaponry. Weaponry took my fancy, but the other shoppers were offended at how bad I smelled, cause of the whole giant bird nest thing. They stripped me of my clothes (I crossed 'romantic subplot' off my list of possibilities) and threw me into some kind of party pool - there were pipes bringing bad ale and everyone seemed to be having a good time, and no one seemed to care that I was naked (I tentatively re-added 'romantic subplot' to my ... just kidding).

Just when I started thinking again, hey I have 3000GP (somewhere...), this is cool, some union rep called Merzei came along stirring up discontent amongst the proles (and by this, I mean slaves). My conscience got the better of me, so I decided to fight, understanding it wouldn't mean 'picket the bosses' offices'. I wrapped on a towel (I'm quite glad the book made a specific mention of this) and dispatched a couple of slave traders. Grabbing some 'filthy' clothes (this time I wasn't so pleased the book made a point of mentioning it) I bailed.

The next town was real nice... looking. Unfortunately, the people were bastards, throwing me in jail cause I stunk. I was executed when being mistaken for someone else - or, in true Knights of the Old Republic style, being someone I didn't realise I was. 

Others have pointed out flaws in Black Vein Prophecy I didn't come across, except perhaps the slightly frustrating lack of awareness of anything. It seems it might have some kind of Fight Club style exposition at some point, but going by the number of times I was asked if I recognised names, and didn't, I can only assume I took wrong turns early on and was punished accordingly. I do like the idea that if you cheat, you will fail, as some point out, but not so much that it relies on a dice roll, if that's true.

I would place BVP in my top half at least, though, based on the one reading, of course. The writing style and art are definitely in the better few FF books, and the intriguing set up works. I just hope a few moves done differently and you'd know a lot more by the point I got to whilst completely in the dark. 

Enjoyable nonetheless. 

Saturday, 22 November 2008

#41 - Master of Chaos

Master of Chaos is a gamebook of two halves in more ways than one. First of all, the synopsis on the back (evil guy amassing forces, has a stolen magical item, a group of good wizards to lazy to do anything themselves, hire averagely-skilled warrior to save the world) reads like a FF Madlibs creation. 

_(name of baddie)_ is planning to _(evil objective)_, he has stolen/acquired _(magical object)_ and according to _(powerful-yet-reluctant goodies)_, you are the only one who can stop _(whatever's so bad)_!

But once I checked out the rules, I realised this wasn't going to be a straightforward dungeon crawl; far from it. But even better, the alterations seemed intelligent, well thought out and fun: food's an essential, not a way to magically heal wounds; you start with nothing (thanks a fucking lot, wizards, you pacifist douchebags); you've got a few cool skills (I chose acute hearing, cause it makes up for my real-life tinnitus, blindsight cause I don't want to waste money on a lantern, and move silently, cause it's advantageous when your shift finishes at 1am); and best of all, you have a 'notoriety' score, which measures your, um, notoriety. 


What's not cool though is the wizards are a bunch of tightasses, starting me off with a measly two gold pieces (which they deign to hide) and put me on a slave ship to Ashkyos, where I'm expected to fund my mission to save the world alone. 

I start next to a guy being whipped excessively, but mindful in this gamebook I've a notoriety score, not an evil score, I let the slavedriving orc have his fun. Besides, I get my turn later (being whipped, not whipping, unfortunately). A couple of weeks and several stamina points on, an attack on the ship by a giant octopus gives me an oppurtunity to show off to the captain by saving his ass. Good dice rolls meant wrestling an octopus tentacle bare-handed wasn't as gross as it should be.

Promoted to 'trusty' slave, I'm soon approached by another with a plan to escape - sneak past the crew while they're drunk on the night we make landfall. I have a better plan - sneak out on my own, cause I bet these idiots will just bring me down. Once again, keeping notoriety low and evil high pays off, and I'm into Ashkyos, lack-of-reputation in tact.

On arrival in Ashkyos though, the book reminds me to keep a track of my notoriety score - damn, this is probably where it begins! At least I'm here in one piece. But unfortunately (there's always an unfortunately) the map I'm apparently keeping in the inside cover of my copy of Master of Chaos is missing.

Still, the book acts as if you know where you're going, and I decide to visit the locales in reverse order to their listing - the book probably expects you'll do them in the presented order, but hey. I wanted to keep track easily without being predictable, so onto the Old Quarter I went, where I'm attacked by a mule. Capturing it easily, I'm awarded some gold, which is cool, since this part of the book I gather is about getting money so I can buy some weapons and shit. 

But first, as this is a shitty town in Khul, I decide to go to a bar. I end up at some wine place, which isn't what I had in mind (this is Khul!), so crash out for the night (but not before pocketing a few gambling winnings - I gave it a shot cause I actually made $80 out of $20 today playing the prediction market). The next day I head to the docks, where an incident with an assassin leaves me considerably richer, but much more notorious. Killing him adds three points to my notoriety - if I hit eight, I have to leave town - which leaves me to wonder how bad this assassin really is, if he himself hasn't even killed three people yet. 

Wandering around a bit more, up to 28 gold pieces, I'm getting annoyed my in-game character hasn't thought to perhaps visit a weapons store or something, considering I just had to bare-handedly kill an assassin armed with a poisoned sword. No, instead I wander to the warehouses, where I get employed work. How lifting boxes was going to save the world, I wasn't sure.

Now, a cool thing about this book is each of the locales can obviously be explored in several different orders, and you can tell from the number of 'have you.....' queries on entry to each area, there are several different sequences of events that can happen. For example, I could tell by the number of times I'd been asked whether I'd met 'Jesper' (or was it 'Vesper'?) that he'd have an important role to play at some point. Unfortunately, as I'd soon discover, I misjudged his role as evil, when though I can't say for sure, his presence would be for good later in the book. I don't know.

All I know is I rejected his offer of helping him in his criminal plot, bought pretty much everything in the weapons store I soon found, and had to leave town - cause simultaneously buying a crossbow, ten arrows, a sword, backpack, armour and waterskin tends to arouse suspicion, even in a town like Ashkyos it seems.

And this is where everything went wrong, if it hadn't already (this is where all you experts have your say!). I trudged along on foot for a couple of days, being without a camel or a ferry ticket, and was stabbed to death in my sleep by a four-armed mutant. 

Apparently this is where the second half of the book really began. Although I only got halfway through, and still have absolutely no idea why there's a two-headed dragon on the cover, I feel like I got a good handle on Master of Chaos, and really enjoyed it. Then again, I tend to like the city-based books, not knowing what's around the (literal) corner and all. The notoriety was well-implemented, the skills came in handy, and the rise-from-adversity plot although illogical considering the lofty heights from which your mission is decreed, works well. 

Even little things like limits on how much food you can carry with/without a bag, damage done with/without a weapon, different sections of the book actually feeling different and skills that seemed real and useful without being overpowering worked well. 

I didn't get far enough I feel to call it one of the best, but I think, bar the cover and title, it's in with a shot. Let's call it recommended.

If only for the fact in paragraph 183, it tries to call you out for cheating.

PS. If anyone knows how to get that ad at the bottom of the page to actually link to the website it is advertising, that'd be awesome. It's my music, so it's not like clicking on it makes me any money, but hey.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

#40 - Dead of Night

So we're into the 40s now, and I'm sure we can't be too far from when the FF font changes. I've some fond memories of the books with the newer font, probably because they were the new ones at the time I first read them, though I'm not sure how many of them I have on hand this time around.

In Dead of Night you're a demon hunter of some kind, and you're off to kill the head demon because he's made a threat not just against the whole world, but also your parents, which apparently is a step too far. 

Complicating matters (as if hunting down a Demon Lord isn't complicated enough) is the lure of the dark side... yes, more Star Wars. Here it's represented by an 'evil' score. But combating that, you've got a white horse, holy water, a silver cross (did Jesus save Allansia's souls?) and some 'talents' which is basically another way of saying magic tricks. 

Unfortuantely, I chose the wrong magic tricks for the shit I tried to pull. I also chose the wrong shit to pull, full stop.

First thing on leaving I came across a skeleton hanging in what the text described as 'gibbet irons'. Looked cool, anyway, so cool I decided to take a closer look. The skeleton was laughing at me, probably 'cause I was a skinny (based on my rolls) dude riding a giant white stallion. Given the option to hit him with my sword, even knowing it was a bad idea I couldn't resist. 

Onto Crowford, my parents weren't home so of course I decided to check the tavern. I could hear arguing from within, so assumed they were there and decided to wait a bit before entering. Turns out they're talking shit about me, and when I burst on in, everyone's a little embarrassed. Later on, a bunch of them approach me with pitchforks and what not, so I decide to show them who's boss - unfortunately they all chicken out when they realise I'm a demon hunter and they're villagers. Showing off is looked down upon though it seems, as I'm hit with two evil points. Hmmm. Maybe I should go all KOTOR on their asses and just embrace the dark side.

But oddly enough, the book tells me I choose not to visit my dead mate the priest's replacement, despite the introduction making a point of saying I should. I thought I showed them villagers? Anyway, somehow I manipulate the book into telling me I'm also going to skip seeing Sharleena the Seer - now seeing her sounds like an important part of the plot, so I was a little miffed. Perhaps it was my horse just going whatever way he wanted to.

I decide to go to Astonbury, thinking maybe there's a festival or something going on. Turns out only one thing common to festivals was happening - the plague. I knew I should have listened to the people who told me the town was riddled with the plague.

And that was that. Hmmm. I decide I'll play a bit longer - rewinding to the part where I didn't have the plague...

So heading to Axmoor instead of Astonbury, there's a setback when my horse is eaten by zombies while I sleep. You think something like that would wake me up, huh? The zombies' master is an orc who serves Magrand, so on arrival in Axmoor I try hunting him down. Instead for the second time I'm faced with an angry mob, but this time I convince them I'm not evil, and actually out to kill Magrand. They fall for this, and let me go on the condition I actually try to kill Magrand. I hightail it north leaving them to their fates, and suffer another two points of evil, d'oh. 

I thought it wouldn't matter till I came across some kind of castle built by pure evil, powered by a 'Death Stone'. It wouldn't have mattered had I rolled a five!

Whatever I did in this book, I don't think it did it justice. It seems like it might actually be quite good, given you do things right, unlike me.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

#39 - Fangs of Fury

Some FF gamebooks just try to do too much in the limited, uncomplicated format set up way back in FF1, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. The best gamebooks are the ones which perhaps not strictly stick to the formula, but at least know how much is too much to cram in.

Fangs of Fury goes far off the deep end, having item hunts, semaphore puzzles, magical item collections, number puzzles, a timer and even an essential mini-quest where you've got to get a bunch of blocks of different shapes, including 'mushroom', and stick them in the appropriate-shaped holes. Just like a two-year-old, except with more chance of death.

It starts out well though, like some sort of cross between Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. There's a bunch of wizards (jedi) having their once-every-seven-year meeting (jedi council), and a former ally-turned-evil uses this opportunity to try and wipe them out once and for all, using a powerful minion (between them, Darth Vader and Palpatine). They've managed to extinguish the breath of the six fire-breathing dragon statues that defend the kingdom, and it's your mission to take some kind of magical torch (the one ring) to a volcano (Mount Doom) and re-light the dragons from there and yeah. Um, what? Meanwhile, to stop you chickening out, the council has fitted a bracelet on your wrist that lets you know when another of the fourteen (?!) walls of the city has fallen (did I mention it was under seige?), and if all of them fall, it kills you, Battle Royale-style.

Heading through underground passages to get past the seige, I eventually the middle of the seige. I tell the goblins I'm with the Bonecrushers (factoid: I had a pet snail when I was eight called 'Bonecrusher' - I'm not sure what age I was when the irony hit me), turns out they haven't made landfall yet. D'oh! So I tell him no wait, I want to join the Bonecrushers, that's what I meant. I'm instead drafted into fighting with the goblin's unit, and realise not more than 10 paragraphs into the book, I'm already hastening my own demise.

A mate from the good side, Peric, falls off his horse and realising I'm already on the way to the dark side, I steal his horse and fuck off out of there. Some orcs catch up, whistle, and the horse throws me off and kicks me in the head. Great. I'm not only a traitor, but I'm well on the way to the dark side and brain damaged.

At this point I'm thinking hey, this book ain't bad. The writing is good, I'm in the story, there's a real sense of freedom despite the very specific goal. The 'the-end-justifies-the-means' attitude your character seems to be allowed to take is refreshing, even when I'm given six bodyguards, ditch five, and kill the one that won't leave. More dark side points! And when some old woman tells me she accidentally dropped her master's fiddle down a well, I just leave her to it. Sounds like a trap.

Escaping a bunch of orcs relatively unharmed, I eventually come across a monastery, and for some reason the book thinks I'm keen to search the entire building. This is where the game starts to get frustrating - I'm forced to go wandering in this building it seems, but I can't stop to search the room of cubes (considering I need as many as I can get), can't stop to check out the cauldron I'm continually reminding is bubbling away, then some voice asks me for 'the numbers of the name that cannot be uttered', gives me six guesses (Hen, Hex, Win, Hox, Ned and Eli are all wrong, by the way), then drops me through a trapdoor with little ill consequence. 

I'm thinking now, this book has taken a slightly annoying turn, to be honest. Why would a disembodied voice give me six chances? 

Moving on, a dwarf at the appropriately named 'Dwarf's Hammer' tavern tells me the volcano is the one with the flat top and three holes, all of which lead to the fires of Mt Doom, or wherever it is I need to go. When I think volcano I don't usually think of getting in them, least of all via the crater(s), but hey.

The book's teetering at this point, but really goes downhill once you're in the 'volcano' (there's a distinct lack of um, lava). I realise I've probably missed something explanatory earlier, but half the walls have semaphoric heiroglyphs carved into them, which beyond an initial YMCA joke mean nothing to me about anything. I'm forced to collect aforementioned puzzle pieces like some kind of lethal kindergarten game and jump over chasms which are easier to leap the more you've eaten (FF provisions are basically instant stamina in pill form, remember!).

Then I reach some monks who want me to pass a bunch of levels for some reason, some of which I can skip if I have a number of white cubes. White cubes? There are white cubes? I only have a few black ones. I knew I should have stopped in the monastery earlier, written to the author Luke Sharp and asked him if I could have special dispensation to stop and grab some of them cubes I was allowed to admire but not examine.

It didn't seem to matter though, as when on only the second level of seven I ran into Palpatine (okay, Jaxartes). There was some kind of lock system with 50 permutations - I had a plain key I'd found hanging from a rope, but a key without a number etched on it is kind of useless in Khul/Allansia, right?

So while I hacked at the lock with my sword (read: had as many guesses as I could), the fallen wizard fired lightning bolts and fireballs at me, and I was eventually killed.

Thing is, all the permutations where between 1 and 50, so even if I guessed one next to the correct one, there's no way my real-life skill 12 eyes wouldn't have glimpsed the correct page to turn to! Haha.

Others have said Fangs of Fury is too easy, as there are too many chances to get through it without even going a particular way, and there's too much time to do it in - 10 walls had been breached by the time I died, out of 14 (Atlantis, eat your heart out). But there are just so many silly little random things, description-less locations and nonsensical challenges, particularly in the second half, that leave it lacking. It's a shame, cause despite the over-egged premise, it started really well.

There was no entry last weekend, cause we had our election and I was out of town drowning sorrows with a bunch of other lefties. 

Saturday, 1 November 2008

#38 - Vault of the Vampire

It follows pretty much every vampire/Dracula cliche I can think of, but somehow Vault of the Vampire manages to rise above its familiar and obvious setting to be a FF classic. Hey, I didn't expect it either.

You begin as a lowly adventurer in search of the usual riches, when you learn of a bastard Count living in a castle who's pissing off the locals by kidnapping their virgins. What makes it worse is his predecessor was his much nicer brother.

Right, so I begin in a bar where there's a guy with no arm and an old woman likely with no teeth, and a carraige pulls up outside with a headless driver. I knew this town was poor, but jebus.

Anyway, bizarrely enough there's an option to ignore the headless skeletal creature beckoning me to take a ride on his ghostly wheels, so I do and wander on my own way, meeting a woman called Valderesse. We get off to a bad start - she shoots me with an arrow - but soon hit it off, and go for a walk along the river where she guilt-trips the local boatman into getting me across for free. 

It soon gets late, but a nice man I come across lets me crash at his place, feeds me some bread and tells me to find his old mate Lothar once I'm in the Count's castle if I need a hand. 

Bloody hell, this book is easy, I'm thinking at this point. I'm almost at the castle and I've got a backpack overflowing with food, some of it garlic. I've no idea why I accepted the guy's offer of garlic, as in-game I've got no idea the Count is a vampire, do I? And it's not like you just chomp into garlic, and I'm not carrying anything to mix it with.

At the suspiciously undefended castle (what, no orcs to beat up?) the first door I open is to a wolf pen. For some reason I whip out the garlic, which does nothign of course, so stand in the doorway to fight them one at a time. If there's one thing I've learned from reading FF, it's that if I stand in a doorway, I will never be outnumbered - even by wolves, whom I doubt give a flying fuck about proper fight etiquette.

Further into the castle, past the Labyrinth-esque talking door whom I silenced with my sword (an option not open to Sarah), I soon ran into the ghost of the aforementioned good brother. Going by the illustration, he was a medieval Christian knight, with his lion armour and cross shield. Or is the lion Welsh? Were there any Welsh Christian knights? 

Anyway, though in game the only clue I'm hunting a vampire is the garlic what's his face gave me, I figure there's something in the crypt that's probably important, but it's locked, so it looks like I'm on an item hunt. 

What do I get? A magic sword (sweet), a ring of regeneration (also sweet), a silver mirror (a ha), a Book of Healers (I can read?), an elven amulet, and a whole lot of keys. Oh, and some brandy that apparently is just as refreshing and stamina-regenerating as whatever it is that comprises the usual FF provisions. I suspect it was perhaps Guiness (perhaps brought back by the English/Welsh crusader from his crusade to, err, Ireland?)

Oh, and some more instruction on how to fight in doorways, thanks to some hapless zombies. When will they learn doorways are no place to fight a FF adventurer, and loo paper doesn't make a good armour?

So, sipping the brandy I wandered into what looked pretty much like a brothel, but was the bedroom of the Count's sister, Katarina. You think people would start putting plaques on the doors, or at the very least hanging signs on doorhandles - I mean, in all the adventures I've made through castles this year, I don't think I've yet wandered into a toilet, or walked in on anyone getting changed.

Anyway, she's pissed I'm looking to save the villagers' virgins, cause it turns out she's the Elizabeth Bathory type, and her ancient visage wouldn't look 25 if she couldn't drink their blood. Lucky I have a magic sword, otherwise I would've been toast.

I soon run into Lothar, who true to reputation is a good dude, though I think there's some bad blood between him and Katarina. He gives me a silver-tipped stake (O RLY?), some more keys and sends me into the crypt where the Count is usually napping.

What do I find there? A spectre, whom I only defeat through a freakish run of dice rolling, more brandy (if only there was an option to abandon the poor villagers and take the place of the drunkard I met down here) and some fucking killer jelly. 

It didn't kill me, but certainly finished me off - stripping me of a few skill points, and leaving me helpless against some four-armed skeleton called a 'major thassaloss'. I now call it a major staminaloss. Buahahaha.

But still, I didn't leave Vault of the Vampire feeling annoyed, because overall it was excellent. There is so much I haven't even mentioned yet - you can become stricken with afflictions and get the ability to cast spells, not that I had either; the book starts out seeming ridiculously easy, then progressively gets more and more difficult as it goes; it seems (though I can't say for sure, not having made it to the end) to be a balanced mix of linear and random choice story-telling; and some of the scenes are really quite freaky. 

Can't say I really knew this one before diving in, and if I ever do a sequel blog through all the books I failed, this one will be at the top of the list. Terrible cover though, huh.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

#37 - Portal Of Evil

I never really thought of Stegosauruses (Stegosauri?) as 'evil', but whichever deity it was that saw fit to give my character the journey he experienced tonight certainly is. 

I was a big fan of dinosaurs long before I heard of Fighting Fantasy; that combined with perhaps the shortest set of rules in a FF gamebook since it began and an intriguing concept (a portal? of evil?) meant I was looking forward a good, classic adventure.

So I wander towards Kleinkastel, a small (presumably German) town near the forest which contains the titular portal of alleged evil. On arrival, without coinage I'm forced to sleep in doorway. So far, so suck, but it was to get worse.

A man and a lizard-bird-dinosaur thing woke me up, demanding I hand over my shit. Figuring this was perhaps one of those backward, counterintuitive decisions where fighting him gets me killed and handing over my weapon gets me a better one back, somehow, I gave in to their demands. With unspectacular skill and stamina rolls, I decided any fights I could avoid would be a good idea.

Nope. Bastard just took my shit and left. D'oh.

In the morning I went begging for food, as I had none and no money, still.

Anyway, once fed I decided to enter a competition in order to win the backing of a big-money benefactor - heperhaps  could give me a sword, at the least. Unfortunately after doing pretty well, one of the challenges was the I Survived a Japanese Game Show or American Gladiators-esque round where we were hung with rope by our ankles, trying to cut each other down. But um, I didn't have a sword, and I doubt even with a -4 skill penalty, I had no chance of cutting down my opponents with my bare hands. 

Anyway, before heading into the forest alone, I had the chance to buy a sword - for 5GP. I had no money!!! Aaragarhhghgh.

I wasn't killed by the first creature I came across in the forest - a Struthiomimus -but the second, a zombie - 'cause I didn't have an official Shaun of the Dead Ring of Taking a Cricket Bat to Zombies, or something. 

Strewth. What a terrible run.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

#36 - Armies of Death

At first I thought, what, another far-off growing threat I have to extinguish? But Armies of Death is a bit different than the previous... however many it is I've had to do in the past couple of months! 

First of all, you get your own army this time around, which I thought was going to be awesome, but I never really got to use them. I might have rolled 7/17/7, but a series of lucky rolls meant my army spent pretty much their entire time hanging around just making me feel cool.

I started by hiring a ship to make my way to Zengis, but only because it was called the Flying Toucan. Normally taking a boat in FF books is a fast-track to drowning, being attacked by pirates and getting lost, or all three, and especially so with over 200 men... but the Flying Toucan? I had to.

Good choice too - as I hinted at before, my dice were stuck on rolling low, and we were soon in Zengis with barely an eyelid battered. If mercenaries bat eyelids. There was the small issue of being attacked by pirates (one out of three ain't bad), but they soon backed off when they saw I had over 200 men (I'm going to keep saying that, as it's not often you've got over 200 men at your command in a FF book).

On arrival in Zengis, the book made my character wander around alone for some reason - this is where a modern computer-based RPG would detect I'd rolled seven for my skill, and let me take over 200 men with me as bodyguards (okay, I'm going to give up on the 'over 200 men' thing, as it's beginning to sound a bit fruity, and I don't think medieval mercenary armies were ready for gay commanders in chief, batting eyelids or not). I found a gold ring with the number 45 inscribed on it, and immediately knew it would come in handy - not because it's gold, or that a burly dude with an axe claimed it was his, but 'cause it had a number on it. Numbered rings were all the rage in 1988 Allansia.

So this guy wanted it back, not that it would fit his fat fingers, each of which probably contained a higher skill rating than I, so I ran. My luck might have been down to about four by this stage, but still, I got away with it and ran into a bar where my luck continued, a bunch of 'vagabonds' telling me where to find the lead bad dude.

Wandering on alone, cause obviously Zengis is safe, I wandered into a pet store and bought a creature that sounded suspiciously useful - a kangaroo that could sit on my shoulder and turn us invisible. Now, I've often read elsewhere how many of Ian Livingstone's books can be glorified item hunts, but come on... how specific a situation would require a magic kangaroo? For sake of suspension of disbelief and immersion, I'm kind of glad I didn't last long enough to find out.

So onto that death - I'd just won a pie-eating contest, and survived an assassination attempt (perhaps it wasn't such a good idea to stand on the table after eating that much pie - if anything, the failed assassination attempt just stopped me from falling off the table and dying much more embarrassingly) when I came across some barrels outside, bound to contain an item I'd need 50 paragraphs later, no doubt. Instead I came across a leprechaun, who wouldn't bugger off, so I went to attack him. Now instead of being protected by the yeti tooth the captain of the Flying Toucan had given me earlier, as he said I would be, the leprechaun used his magic to glue me in place. I lost two luck points, placing me on one, I tested my luck and what do you know, you can't roll one or lower with two dice... and a sewer goblin came along and killed me. 

Stupid yeti tooth. 

So um, I was enjoying Armies of Death, actually. It seemed to have a mix of things - sailing, barroom antics, wandering streets, an apparent distant army waiting to be vanquished... I wish I'd gotten further, but also fear I would've ended up frustrated I was missing a single item essential for progress, or something. I'd also have liked to have a mass battle at some point - even if the battle system was simplistic and random. 

Speaking of random, when the Flying Toucan came ashore, the captain coughed and took a while to recover. I really did think ooh, a foreshadowing of some kind of disease that will run through my army, decimating it and putting pressure on the need for more troops later on... but no. Weird.

The book moved quick, sometimes a little too much so, but on the whole was better for it. 

But does anyone else think Ian Livingstone's face on the back cover is a deeper red than the back cover itself?

Saturday, 11 October 2008

#35 - Daggers of Darkness

At first Daggers of Darkness sounds awfully familiar - an enemy is ammassing an army, you're society's only hope, etc etc. But there are several differences here, largely in the gameplay - poison is spreading through your body, and instead of just killing the top bad dude, you've also got to ascend to the throne in his place.

With other extra bits and pieces, like collecting powerful medallions in some bizarre and inefficient ascension ritual, semi-magical powers and several passages of rolling dice and suffering at random, it's an interesting set up that works in some places but seems annoying in others.

I rolled 10/17/10, so took the Potion of Stamina and set off left. I sson discovered that after pretty much every fight, the poison would spread further - no matter how many times I was cut and bled some of it out! The adventure sheet supplies you with a body chart so you can track where it goes, but it doesn't seem to matter just what parts of your body are infected. I ended the book with a clear head and right leg, but the rest of me was riddled with it. 

Anyway, on my way I crashed at a beggar's place, waking up to an assassin. I had the option to roll out of the way of his dagger, or stop it with my hands. Err, I chose the former. Perhaps if these assassins didn't insist on using the shortest blades possible, they'd actually stab someone properly. 

Wandering further, I chose again to take the left path, this time because it was advertised with a picture of a horse and I could totally do with a horse right about now, I thought. Someone did eventually give me a horse, but only after tying me to the ground and letting it kick the shit out me first. Apparently it was a test, but it's not as if my skills or luck had anything to do with it - then again, I was tied to the ground.

Eventually I came to the maze of Bogomil, and entered, knowing one of the magic medallions would be in there. Don't make me explain the reasoning behind collecting medallions, just know they're important! The beggar told me which path to take through the maze, god only knows how he knew, but his directions got me through, medallion in tow. It was sitting on a trap, Indiana Jones-style, and I knew it'd need the weight of ten gold pieces to balance it - unfortunately I'd spent my money getting the directions here, ironically enough.

So I grabbed it, suffered through the volley of arrows, and kept on. The maze was pretty much the only part of this book I didn't choose to go left at every opportunity.

On exiting the maze, my good wizard friend sent me a message that all the medallions had been found, already, so I'd better head to Sharabbass and meet the evil dude. 

Okay, I'm not really focussing enough on why this book was frustrating. So many times where other books would have tested my skill or luck, I was instead asked to roll a die so many times, then so many times again, and compare the numbers - if any matched, something would happen - usually losses of skill and stamina points, or even death. But to be honest, it was never that scary, because the author played pretty loose and fast with losing and gaining stamina all the way through Daggers of Darkness - at one point, a waft of fresh air replenished me three stamina points. Goddamn! Throwing a ball on a chain into a hole cost me a stamina point each time; to think, I could have been killed attempting the hammer throw. 

So wandering on, I came across another contestant for the throne who conveniently died and left me another medallion (thankyou left path, again!). Going left again, an elf helped me slip past some orcs and a necromancer into Sharabbass (how bad a necromancer do you have to be in order to end up on orc duty?), where I went left and eventually found myself on the Street of Forty Guilds.

Now, as this is a 400-page book, not a 4000, only four of the tradesmen's shops were open. The first I went into just happened to be that of the very dude I needed to find - he loaded me up on mystery potions, then led me to the final mazey-kind of thing. I'm being vague, cause it was a little anticlimactic, to say the least!

I wandered through the final section, didn't even use my power of 'Great Wisdom' like was hinted at in the text, found the bad guy sitting on a bed, he told me to go fight his daughter, but instead I just wandered on up to the throne and sat on it. Err, and won!

By far the easiest FF gamebook so far, as long as the random dice rolling doesn't kill you. There wasn't much that seemed to threaten instant death; and as at every opportunity I had, I went left, it didn't seem to matter which way you went - in fact, I got two medallions, which apparently is about the most you can get anyway, and there are only three mazes anyway (whilst there are apparently seven medallions).

A wasted opportunity, even if the original premise sounds cliched - there was enough different in the set up to make Daggers of Darkness a classic, but it falls short for just being so easy. So many times it seemed I was going to be missing a vital piece of information - the number of times I was offered some for an amount of money I couldn't afford - but it didn't matter. Nothing seemed to matter in the end - as long as I got there, it was a cakewalk.

Hell, the medallions even let you come back to life and pretend you'd won the last fight no less than three times... each. In a world where even air can give you three stamina points, what was the point?