Saturday, 26 April 2008

#10 - House of Hell

This is the only Fighting Fantasy gamebook to be set in modern times, at least in the mid '80s when it was published. Your car breaks down on a stormy night, and the only house in walking distance is the titular House of Hell - only this time it's not populated by Transylvanian cross-dressers, instead it's full of demons and ghosts and strange weirdos of all sorts (who, as far as I know, all keep their clothes on).

Oddly enough, despite its modern setting, or perhaps because of it, the entire premise is now badly dated - we'd now have a cellphone handy, right? Or could wave down somebody who did, surely.

Anyway, I wandered up to the door, used the knocker, and a butler arrived. He told me the Master was 'expecting' me, and we both went inside. The book doesn't give the option to query this rather strange introduction, so ah well. Lets assume the '80s were a simpler, more innocent time.

I made some small talk with the master, then laid into his white wine - which turned out to be laced with the strongest aspirin known to man - once again, the '80s must've been a simpler, more innocent time, as one hit was enough to knock me cold. Is there pseudoephedrine in aspirin?

Tied up upon awaking, I broke a window and used the shards to cut myself free, and wandered into the hallway. The doors all had plaques on them reading things like 'Balthus Room' and 'Diabolus Room', nto particularly inviting, so I wandered through hallways and whatnot before coming across the front door.

Woah, easiest FF book ever, I thought.

I opened it, and saw a hideous monster that looked like a hippy crossed with a goat-headed demon thing, and almost frightened myself to death. That's something this book has that other FF books don't - a fear score. My ability to absorb fear was minuscule, another reason I stayed clear of doors as often as possible. There's this pic in The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain that always used to freak the crap out of me in real life, let alone the game. I can't find it on Google images, but trust me, this aged old man leaping at you carrying a club or something is an image I'll never forget.

I ran away, and was forced to choose between two doors - one was locked, so no longer with even the hint of a choice, I entered the room... and found a kitchen, with some keys. Sweet! I grabbed the keys, and got burned, literally. They were red hot! The noise created when I dropped said burning keys attracted some 'mysterious friends' of the Master, who weren't so mysterious as evil. They dragged me down into a dungeon of sorts, where ended my adventure.

The very first door I tried.

Sorry I can't report too much more on House of Hell... it seemed interesting, if a little dependent on just choosing the right doors - particularly with a low fear score like mine. I was four sevenths of the way to being frightened to death before I even opened a single door! Another site suggests the book is so difficult, some parts which lead to certain death are required to go down in order to find out information you need later on in a successful attempt. Hmmm. Others suggest it's just really, really hard and requires an almost perfect run of events. Hmmm.

Seems interesting though, I'd recommend giving it a go, but don't drink the white wine. I think.

My version is as above, but hellishly worn - it seems an entire generation of people have tried it out, haha. It has a stamp for Swanson School Library inside. I wonder why they got rid of it?

Saturday, 19 April 2008

#9 - Caverns of the Snow Witch

This, the ninth book in the series is apparently a prequel to Forest of Doom - though getting as far as I did on both the attempts I made in the hour prior to sitting down in front of the computer, you wouldn't know it.

Brutal is perhaps the best word to describe Caverns of the Snow Witch... according to Wikipedia it's a three-parter with a couple of secondary characters eventually tagging along with you. I never got as far as half way through the first mission, and only briefly met a dwarf before being stabbed in the shoulder to death.

First of all, it didn't help that I initially rolled a piss-poor skill level of seven. My stamina was 24 though, I'm not sure what kind of training leads a warrior to have such power and endurance but the dexterity of a wombat. My luck was 11, which I assumed I was going to need.

Soon after trekking off in search of a Yeti, after easily killing a couple of goblins, I had the option of trudging on despite the weather, or hanging out in the snow overnight. I've seen The Empire Strikes Back and know not to spend too much time in the snow, so I pushed ahead, eventually contracting a mean case of frostbite in, not surprisingly, my sword arm. With my skill at a ridiculously low four, Iwolfed down my Potion of Skill to restore it, and found refuge in a warm cabin.

On leaving the cabin, I took the occupants' weapons - a war hammer (I assume this is the link to Forest of Doom) and a spear. After losing even more stamina in the snow (when will this end?!) I soon came across the Yeti, but the frostbite prevented me from slaying the creature in one swoop, and I was mercilessly slaughtered.

Right, that was far too short an adventure to write about I decided, so re-rolled for a second attempt. Skill? Seven. Bugger. Stamina 22, luck 11. Once again I must've been using some cheap infomercial-advertised exercise system.

So with a luck of 11, I took my chances on the ice bridge and dispatched the two goblins - not without difficulty though, they got me down to a single stamina point. Hmmm. I wolfed down five meals, which in Fighting Fantasy world gets you back up to full strength somehow, like they come with loaded with caffeine and guarana or something, and built an igloo for the night. It would seem my skill rating of seven only applies to fighting, and not eskimo-related abilities.

I didn't get frostbite, but had to eat two meals to regain my energy after the long walk in the snow. So after only turning the page five or six times, I was seven meals down. At this rate, I'd be looking forward to eating the Snow Witch, should I make it that far.

I made it to the Yeti, and the spear did almost nothing, but the dice were much kinder. I killed him with six stamina remaining. At this point the book said I considered returning to collect my reward, but chose to press on. Yeah, with six stamina points and two meals, I chose to head on. Thanks, freedom of choice!

I then managed to aviod an avalanche through pure luck, and entered the caverns. The first person I met was a goblin, who upon mentioning his desire to run away, was promptly killed Battle Royale-style by the 'obedience collar' around his neck. Then, to rub it in, I lost a luck point. Ian Livingstone wasn't mucking around when he wrote this book.

Eventually, I came across a room of 10 people worshipping an ice statue, and had three options - tell them I was going to play a magic flute for the Snow Witch (I didn't have one), fight them (err, no thanks) or try to just wander past. I tried the latter, and was caught by a whip and forced to fight the ice statue, which turned out to actually be a demon. Great... Somehow, through the use of luck, luck, and extremely lucky dice rolls, I came out of it alive, with a single stamina point left. The worshippers let me leave, thinking I must have the demon's powers now - yeah, a guy who'd die if on the receiving end of a dead-arm punch has the powers of a demon. Right... My reward, apart from a delayed inevitable death? One luck point. I was now up to three.

I then saved a dwarf from a pit, and told him I was determined to press on into the cavern. Yup, with a single stamina point and no food, I was going to slay the greatest threat to Allansia apparently.

Ultimately, I was killed by an "ugly robed man" when he stabbed me in the shoulder. I'm not sure if it was he or his robes that were ugly, I'm not sure I would've cared, almost being a zombie and all.

I wasn't impressed by this book - at every turn, I was losing stamina or being asked to fight powerful opponents, right from the get-go, with no let up. I've read the book is quite interesting once you get past the Snow Witch, who apparently is dealt with inside the first half of the story, but getting there without a high skill roll is nigh on impossible.

Perhaps I'm just annoyed I rolled two sevens, haha!

There's not really a lot more I can say, not getting too far either time. Well, maybe I'll have better luck with House Of Hell.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

#8 - Scorpion Swamp

Scorpion Swamp was the first of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks to mess with the formula, to fix what wasn't broke, the first to take drugs and experiment with its sexuality, so to speak.

Well, maybe not, but it is still quite a departure from the previous six. Firstly, magic spells. Magic freakin' spells! The story is non-linear, allowing you to re-visit previous locations. Non-freakin'-linear! There isn't a single goal, but a choice of three, determined by your early choices in the town of Fenmarge. Three-freakin'-quests! And you had no food. Which just plain sucked, and was almost the death of me on more than one occasion. If Homer Simpson had a supply of Power Sauce bars to help him to the top of the Murderhorn, the least the writer could have given us to wander through Scorpion Swamp was a banana or something.

Ah, the writer. One of the little-known things that elevates the Fighting Fantasy series above others, is that the first book not written by co-founders Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone was written by none other than Steve Jackson. Confused? The former is a Brit, the latter, a Yank. Awesome.

With the change in authorship came a change in style, obviously. Something that stuck out were the amusing, pithy comments that often accompanied battles, usually along the lines of 'if you die here then maybe you shouldn't have done such and such' or implying your remains will become fertiliser. Much better than the boring old, 'If you defeat whatsisface, turn to page x'.

Anyway! I got skill 10, stamina 21, luck 12, and headed into the swamp armed with barely more than some parchment and pencil in order to make a map for my boss, Poomchucker. Yes, Poomchucker. I had a choice of three wizards to serve: one good, one evil, and one 'strange' with the name Poomchucker. Well, that was a no-brainer...

He wanted me to make a map, which was convenient, because in the book's introduction it said making a map was very important anyway. So I entered the swamp (covered in 'evil fog' by the way, which amused me; I always thought fog had its good points, to be honest), and soon came across a 'Master of Wolves' (no word on whether he danced with them). The option was there to fight, and at this stage I was full of stamina and skill, so thought why not. It was a tough battle, I took his 'Wolf Amulet' and headed over to ransack his hut - magically sealed. Damn, I thought, I have all these magic freakin' spells, but no, there was nothing I could do about it, the book maintained. Ah well.

I decided that as I had approached the swamp from the south, chances were that the town I was looking for, Willowbend, was on the other side, so I headed north. I needed food badly already - wolf guy was pretty tough. Of all the rule changes, why the hell no damn food?! I had to use several luck points to defeat him, a common feature of many future battles in the swamp.

One stamina spell (already!) and several leech bites later, I began to wonder why this Poomchucker couldn't just go around the swamp to find his damned Willowbend.

I next came across some trees wielding swords called 'Sword Trees'. Okay Jackson #2, I'm thinking about now, something's not right here... I defeated the trees (barely) only to be told I pocket some of their seeds - why the hell would I bother? I can't imagine for what purpose I'd need hostile swordfighting trees. They'd knocked me down to only a few stamina points - lucky I'd burned them with a fire spell beforehand, or I'd probably have been killed.

Next I came across a river which I iced over using a spell, only for my bridge to crumble halfway across. Luckily I soon swept by a stone bridge which I can only assume the 'evil' fog prevented me from seeing earlier.

I kept venturing north, killed a unicorn, and left a giant eagle in peace (I'd just killed one endangered species, I didn't want to start on another) and fell into quicksand, which knocked me down to two stamina points... the 'Wolf Amulet' let me pass a bunch of, um, wolves, and a giant I chanced across was just a big wouss who'd lost his hanky. Counting my blessings - I'd gotten past an entire pack of wolves and a giant while on only two stamina - I soon came across a big purple berry.

Anyone who's read my previous posts will know I hardly ever pass up the chance to eat shit on my adventures, and with a lack of anything edible on my journey to date, I pigged in. Two more stamina! Sweet.

I then met a ranger who advised me Willowbend was to the south then west; I followed those exact directions, which happened to also be the way in which a Will'O'Wisp was travelling; bad omen, it led me into a mudhole, and I was back down to two stamina.

My next opponent was slime. Not the ghost, but actual slime. I noticed one of the options - try a spell - led to paragraph 400. Ooerr. Out of interest, I had a quick peek, but no, it wasn't instant victory - it was just another paragraph. Steve Jackson II really did do something different with Scorpion Swamp!

Anyway, I beat the swamp without taking a hit (luckily, as a single one would've killed me). Some brigands soon approached, but a quick friendship spell sorted them out. They recommended a tavern to spend the night at, which I did, gaining a measly two (two is always measly, even if I only have two to begin with) stamina points - what was I sleeping on, the floor? Luckily a local wizard swapped me a stamina spell in exchange for my unicorn horn.

Now, I figured the trip home would be easy - I'd killed or befriended everything on my path home, but something happened - it wasn't as easy to navigate back. Everything seemed a little different, and some things - like the scorpion horde and the Sword Trees - were back in full force. I would've killed for some stamina-regaining spells of the like they must've had!

I was particularly annoyed when after dispatching some orcs, I was told their provisions were 'too disgusting to touch'. O RLY? Said who!? I even ate a defeated thief's cheese, my standards can't have been that high.

Eventually, I scrambled from the swamp with six stamina points left, and completed my quest.

I have to say, I really enjoyed Scorpion Swamp, and felt the change in style and format really, really worked. It built upon the 're-visiting' functions Forest of Doom had introduced, and made them work in a much more realistic, natural manner. I was particularly impressed how the trip back wasn't as simple as it seemed, mimicking a real sense of confusion one would have in a real swamp of its type. The return to some locations even built upon what had happened in previous encounters, a feature that may seem natural in computer games or more complex publications, but quite an achievement in a 400-paragraph book in the infancy of its series. Kudos to Steve Jackson II.

In my uber-box of books, there two copies of this one; one as above, which I assume is the original - it appears by book eight, Jackson the first and Livingstone realised they had a pretty decent franchise going, and began designing them as such; the second with the later, flashier logo that's well-represented here. I played the second, not that they're any different in content, but the newer one was in better condition. Much like my success rate, after completing Scorpion Swamp - 25%!

It wasn't easy though, I had excellent luck with the dice, and used my good luck score often in battles. Overall I enjoyed Scorpion Swamp, and would definitely recommend it. Hell, there are two more quests I could go back and attempt, which I won't right now, but yeah. A book you can come back to, probably.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

#7 - Island of the Lizard King

Success! Finally, no less than seven books in, I managed to complete one. I know I know, narratively I shouldn't reveal this till the end, but I'm just so excited... was it the change in dice (I couldn't find ol' unlucky reds, and instead used so-fresh-so-clean green), or the fact I was stalking the island of the Lizard King, in a previous age known as Mr Mojo Risin'?

Enough music geekery. I rolled a skill of 11, big help, even if I lost two points later on while trying to chip a gemstone (Why? Because it was an option, why else?), which I regained upon finding a vitally important sword. Add to that a stamina of 21 and eight luck (no guessing which of the potions I chose) and I thought, yeah, I've got a shot at this.

There's a convoluted story behind why you've got to invade this island and depose this self-proclaimed king, which I won't go into except to say it's pretty noble, and rather suicidal. Regardless, you begin the adventure with a companion, Mungo, and if you know anything about the Fighting Fantasy gamebook series, it's that companions who aren't a part of your Adventure Sheet aren't permanent by any means - they'd might as well be described as wearing red tunics or something.

Anyway, we're immediately told there's a circus in town down the road, the infamous Trial Of Champions... seven books in, Jackson and Livingstone were already building an empire of sorts. It's a nice tie-in, if a little obvious in the very next book :)

So we reach the titular island, Mungo's inevitably killed (by a giant crab of all things), and I'm right into eating and drinking random things (look, I'm tying into my previous posts, just like...). After defeating a band of headhunters, I chowed on their bananas and coconuts, receiving a single stamina point in reward. One? It makes you wonder what the hell my normal provisions are made of, considering they each give me four stamina points, and I can fit ten of them in my backpack (with all the other crap I'm carrying, it must be some kind of spaceman food). Later in the book, I'm forced to use one meal - the explanation being I need salt to rid my legs of leeches. Salt, huh? Magic.

I ate some fungus, well at least I tried to. It sprayed rash-inducing spores into my face, which cleared up pretty quickly. Still, I was offered to eat what was left. Um, nuh-uh.

Some pygmies gave me some berries in exchange for a hand-axe. Not having learnt my lesson, I ate some, and my stamina increased by TWO stamina points. Salt is four, berries are two, but bananas and coconuts are a meagre one. Imagine if I found a hamburger on this island!

No hamburgers, but something equally as awesome showed up - a 'Pouch of Unlimited Contents'. Ooer. It sounds like something out of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but here it was, in medieval Allansia. The only use I had for it putting the spear and axe I didn't have into it so they wouldn't fall off a raft while fighting a crocodile, but I'm sure it came in handy carrying all that damn salt I must've needed to supply me with enough nutrients to heal my wounds.

So I battled and ate my way across the island, eventually reaching the mines where the enslaved dwarves were kept. Before rescuing them however, I had to find them. And how did I find them? I quote:

"A thought suddenly crosses your mind that perhaps the boots you are wearing might be enchanted. You put your foot up against the wall and try to walk up it. Sure enough, it works. You are wearing a magical pair of Boots of Climbing."

No previous mention was made of mushroom-eating or those pygmies' berries being enchanted, for the record. I don't often purchase new shoes and wonder, a few days later, if they are enchanted, but I certainly will now! Lucky it was a wall I needed to walk through when I began wondering if my boots were magic, and not a crocodile-infested pit that needed jumping across.

In my adventures underground I also acquired a pail of water, which I carried through a couple of fights, eventually giving to some dwarves. It's amazing the things you just know you'll need - like a monkey.

At work, at least where I work now, we often joke about how cool it'd be to have an army of monkeys to do your bidding (I think I'm the only one of us who has seen Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, and therefore the only one who thinks it could possibly be a bad idea in reality) but when I was told the Lizard King (I can't stop picturing Jim Morrison) is afraid of monkeys, I realised this book was way cooler than I remember.

So I took Bubbles on my shoulder like some kind of primatical pirate, and went into battle, dispatching a hobgoblin and a cyclops with this bizarre, but obviously useful, distraction. I know the authors state in the introduction there are dead ends and red herrings, but a pet monkey? Come on! Okay, I knew he'd come in handy, but even if I didn't, there's no way I'd turn down a monkey companion, if only to replace Mungo.

Turns out (shocking!) the Lizard King is afraid of monkeys. Why? Well, who wouldn't be afraid of a monkey willing to sit on the shoulder of a complete stranger as said stranger fought and battled his way through an army of Lizard Men, hobgoblins and cyclopses? Cyclopsi?

In the end, perhaps I'd done too well - despite having no more than four stamina points and no magic, salty food - as the Lizard King himself was a pushover. There's no record of whether Jim Morrison was afraid of monkeys, but even he'd have put up a better fight.

So wooooo! I completed one. I suppose it helped there are less instant deaths in this book than some of the previous ones... and some have suggested it's quite linear and less dependant on having specific items/knowledge (though if you do have them, it makes it considerably easier). I suppose I had enough... a lot of I found was based on reading things. Wow! Who would've thought a gamebook would place such emphasis on reading!?

My copy only mentions the previous six as being available, so must be pretty old, but has the green Puffin strip across the top, unlike the pic above. The title page inside has the Lizard King hanging out with a two-headed dragon. I'm glad I never had to find out if the two-headed dragon was a part of the story at all...

One from seven! If this was cricket I'd be screwed, but I'm just glad to be on the scoreboard...