Saturday, 30 August 2008

#28 - Phantoms of Fear

In Phantoms of Fear, you play either (according to the back page blurb) a 'humble' Wood Elf, or (according to the introduction) a Wood Elf who's inherited magical and fighting powers from your parents, and has been named 'Defender-Shaman of the Tribe'.

So whichever of these you are, it's your job, as decreed by yourself in a dream, to rid the forest of an evil army being put together by Ishtra the Demon Prince.

Dreams are a big part of PoF, and despite sounding like some crazy gimmick, they actually work quite well - more on that later.

I rolled 9/18/12 and a dream/magic 'power' rating of 11 - not too bad. Starting without provisions made it easy to choose a Potion of Strength. Apparently as a Wood Elf, you're quite confident of being able to find food as you go - unfortunately, the player is human and has read 27 previous FF books in as many weeks, and isnt' so naive.

Straight away the book threw me into a dream - should I walk down the nice, calm forest path, or the evil, twisted one? It's a dream, it can't hurt too much I thought, and went down the dark one. That's something cool about PoF, as far as I discovered, dying in a dream doesn't leave you dead for real - at least for the most part. You can feel free to try things a bit scarier, riskier.

So anyway, after wandering off and almost being killed by squirrels while trying to steal their nuts (told you I should've brought food), I find seven packs of provisions, but not before battling a giant. Stupid elf.

I head north until a creek and bog forces me southwest. Night falls, I crash in a hole in a tree. Of course it belonged to someone else, whom I inevitably had to kill, 'cause that's what you do when you sleep in someone else's bed in FF.

The further west I go, the more skittish the animals become. Somehow, my character thinks this is a good thing - yeah, the same character who thinks the gods speak to him in dreams, names his sword ('Telessa') and kills people who own the beds he sleeps in, like some kind of evil Goldilocks-bear.

I see off some wolves with a fire spell and swordplay (sorry, 'Telessaplay') then it's nearly night again. I don't like the look of any of the caves, so press on throught the night, offsetting the two stamina point-loss with a large eight stamina-point breakfast. Just then, an unearthly wail spread across the land, accompanied by a strong gust of wind - but, according to the text: "fortunately you were breathing out, so none of the blast entered your lungs." Wow, this is going to be easier than I thought - a sorcerous gust of wind passes so quickly and weakly, I'm unaware of it cause I happened to breathe out at that exact moment.

Heading into the evil forest, apparently I can no longer use spells - wow, I only got to use one the entire book, and it was to scare a wolf. I'm feeling distinctly underwhelmed by the use of magic in PoF, but what the hell. I'm sure if I'd headed east or south to begin with, the complete wrong direction, I'd be using it loads. And wasting my time - though I'm sure they wouldn't have had such a 50/50 decision so early on!

I follow a trail leading to holly bushes, which I climb under. As I'm coming out the other side, someone stands on my neck and tells me to lose the sword. Hmmm. I do so, and he lets me up - an insane barbarian. Apparently I can tell he's insane because he is so unkempt and dirty, but has a perfect, immaculately carved double-headed axe. Maybe he's just got Aspergers? I suppose that didn't really exist in the '80s. We go to his hut and sit down. I tell him who I am, and he laughs. Fuck this I think. I grab my sword. kill him, drink my potion and look around. Nothing to take, except his axe. Maybe it's magic? Who knows.

I head further west, and am circled by six Dark Elves. Shit. I try to make a break for it, but they attack - a new one every four attack rounds... somehow, and my dice aren't usually this kind, but I survive it... with four stamina points left... lucky, lucky rolls. But a fucking mean fight to stick in the middle of this adventure! I assume it's avoidable somehow, but jebus.

I come across the tunnel to the underground, which is a good sign. I feel like I'm actually doing quite well for once! Now this is where the book really does something quite innovative and cool. You're able to switch between the dream world and the real world at will by subtracting/adding numbers to the paragraph you're on, and continuing on wherever it takes you. It works too, at least the part of it I got to experience.

A Sphinx tries to trick me, but I'm no fool. I head down the correct path and see a troll fighting an orc. Once they're done, the troll comes for me... and I come out of it with a single stamina point.

Hmmm... to the dream world! Alright! A way to complete this adventure with only a single stamina point. But...

My body in real life wanders into a narrow passage, and the large axe I pinched off the crazy guy hits the sides, alerting the denizens to my presence... and I'm killed with a volley of crossbow shots, invisible or now.

All in all, a good read. The dream elements were implemented really well, perhaps at the expense of the magic side of things a bit. The fights seem a little unfair - the odds are stacked against you with random dice rolls - but that's what dream are like, right?

I can't imagine what I would've thought had I gone east or south to begin with though! The freedom seemed well done, the way I went at least. Recommended. If you go west or north.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

#27 - Star Strider

Star Strider is that rare thing in the FF universe - a book set on Earth. It's Earth somewhat far into the future, but Earth nonetheless.There's Madrid, 'Roma', Paris and London... but I only found this out from a map, not from experience.

Another difficult entry, Star Strider finds you, a bounty hunter of some sort, on a mission to save the Galactic President, who's been kidnapped by the Gromulan race and hid on the backwater planet of Earth.

Right off the bat Iknow this isn't going to be any normal FF book - the instructions are slightly rewritten to be more like a mission briefing - I'm even given the option to not accept the mission before the book proper even begins - but there's a flaw. Nowhere is it mentioned your scores can never exceed their initial levels. I thought this an error till in the very second paragraph I read I ate some 'food cubes' and gained a stamina point, without the chance to have lost any. The future rules!

Apart from the kidnapping and all that.

So once on Earth, I'm on the way to Madrid when some Gromulans realise I'm a rogue tracer ( the fancy future term for bounty hunter). Surprisingly enough, they let me go. Once in Madrid, I ignore the suspicious looking android (some are agents for us, others have turned to the dark side) instead try to capture some local houlgans/hooligans. The one I capture is just a kid, and takes me to their gang - who hate the Gromulans too. They suggest trying one of two places - the Plaza de Toros, or the hacienda - the latter of which is more lightly defended, and probably host to New Order gigs, so I choose that one.

It might not be guarded by androids, but it's host to laser beams. Having watched the Mythbusters episode where they figure out how to escape detection by burglar alarms, the dice roll me lucky and I'm in. A butler robot accosts me but I deal to it quickly (by now I've got 31 stamina and am feeling quite invincible). A little comes out, and it seems I've destroyed the android she sent to get her a drink. Still, she wants to play - I suggest a game involving her family's ComTerm (like an internet access point), and she's keen.

Sweet! To get in though, there's a maths problem - a 'fill in the missing number and turn to that page' problem.

54 (12) 9
18 (?) 2

I worked it out in some backward-assed manner, and was faced with a much easier problem. Who blocks off their internet with maths problems, anyway?!

Anyway, onto Roma, I find a member of the underworld there who apparently has some info. unfortunately, he won't even talk to me until I've won a round of Russian Roulette, which I lose. Grrr.

It was a frustrating way to lose, as I was quite enjoying Star Strider. It strikes a nice balance between feeling open-ended but still with enough purpose and drive - the continually leaving bus/train/subway thing keeps you moving along, as does the time limiton your mission - 48 hours.

I didn't get the impression, at least this far in, it was too random, and it felt like an intelligent romp. Perhaps a little too heavy on the backstory/info, but intriguing nonetheless.

Friday, 15 August 2008

#26 - Crypt of the Sorcerer

I'm finding it hard to believe I was once five from 15 in completing these books - and after a rather sudden end to Crypt of the Sorcerer, which I was really enjoying, I'm still at five... from 26.


Anyway, CotS is kind of a cross between Star Wars and the King Arthur legend; there's a powerful sorcerer (duh) spreading his influence and control over the land, using the 'dark' arts... and the only thing that can kill him is his old sword, currently being held by a former enemy who'll willingly give it up to anyone who can find him. He doesn't make it easy though, hiding in a secluded lake, sailing about.

It's obvious my mission is to kill the sorcerer, so the first thing I do is visit ye olde wizard Yaztromo, he of Forest of Doom and Temple of Terror. In CotS, he plays a Yoda analogue - the wise, grumpy old fuck who gets everyone else to do what he can't, being too old and all.

Turns out the lake with the sword is to the east, which is also the direction from the which the darkness (figuratively, and literally - the overcast skies are annoying Yodatromo) is spreading. Slightly annoyed at having to partake in the farcical aquatic ceremony of retrieving a magic sword from a watery skeleton, I decided to follow the river, and was almost killed by Harpoon Flies. Yaztromo's potion quelled the poison's effects.

I came across a cave, and knowing I'd need lots of amulets and things to defeat the evil sorcerer because a) Yaztromo told me, and b) this is an Ian Livingstone book, I decided to investigate. I came across a metal box, which unleashed two creatures called 'Rad Hulks'. Not green, but Rad. Hmmm.

Dispatching them eventually, after a run of four consecutive tied attack rounds, I then came across a wooden box. I figure a wooden box wouldn't be able to hold creatures as strong as Rad Hulks, and was rewarded for my wonky logic with chainmail. Sweet. My character decides on his own he doesn't need the plate armour, for some reason (but this being a Livingstone book, probably wisely).

Next stop is a smoking village, where a dying dward bequeaths me his barrel, in which I find gold, a knife and a crystal on a chain - a crystal of sanity! Something I could have done with in past adventures, no doubt. I remember back in the day (in my case, the early 1990s) when I'd use characters 12/24/12 and re-roll bad rolls, I'd re-use characters from one book in another - keeping any iron keys, gold pieces and so on from quest to quest. It made no logical consistent sense, but sure as hell made it easier. Cause you know, it was so hard with re-rolling and perfect stats already...

Anyway, I digress. I killed some chameleons, dabbed their blood on my skin in order to gain their camouflage skills - it's not made apparent in the text whether this only applies to the parts of my body I daubed it on, like sunscreen, or everywhere - though for laughs' sake, I hope it's the former.

Next up I came across a boneyard, which is one of those 'only in FF' things. Though I did once live in a student flat with a cat who had a stash of dead creatures behind the couch. The 'Bonekeeper' needed a new knife for carving his 'magic' rings, so I gave him the one I had in exchange for a ring that warded off werewolves. At least, that's what he said.

So far, so good. I'm feeling like I'm doing well, making good progress. I've had lucky rolls, I'm collecting a lot of gear, and I'm coming across fortuitious poems such as: 'To go beyond a granite door, press the numbers one, eight, four,' inscribed into boulders. Think about this. Someone went to the trouble of composing and carving a rhyming couplet into a random boulder about a particular granite door in some place not even I, on a quest where I'm likely to need to go through a granite door at some point, know. It's the FF equivalent of the modern, I don't know, reading a random article on Czechoslovakian economics then there being a question on it at that night's pub quiz. Or something. Either way, it's a slow golf clap for Livingstone here, surely.

But I was never to find out, as a wood demon - some kind of evil Ent - grabbed me, I failed a roll, and as I'd dropped my sword (where was my skill roll for that?!) reached for my knife... which I'd swapped for a bone ring, so I was crushed to death.


I was actually really enojying CotS, others say it's quite difficult though - I never got that impression, but sure I would have eventually. I'm going to assume you don't need the werewolf ring, for one, though.

I'd recommend it, for sure, but if it really is as hard as others say, it could get frustrating over a few reads.

My copy is the same as the pic above, excpet with a '26' in a yellow circle in the top right, and a message in pen inside the front cover - 'To Tony, with love from Anne & Bob.' I suppose I can't say for certain the copy pictured above doesn't also have this dedication, but what are the chances?

Probably greater than finding a random boulder with the pin number to a random door, that's for sure!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

#25 - Beneath Nightmare Castle

I don't really have any memories of Beneath Nightmare Castle - when a single FF book cost as much, if not more than I earnt a week it was inevitable I'd miss some. The horror genre isn't particularly up my alley either, so I wasn't sure what to expect here.

But I sure as hell didn't expect to die four pages in!

I rolled 7/20/7, and willpower 12, which didn't bode too well. Basically, I'd suck in a fight, but would persevere anyway, never a good combination.

In BNC, you're back in town to see an old friend, Baron Tholdur, but something's gone horribly wrong - the town seems oddly quiet, and your old friend is under the control of a powerful wizard, or something. I never did work out what exactly was going on.

This is partly down to the fact there's no picture for the first entry, nor the introduction. It's straight into the story, what little story there seems to be so far. Not surprised though - the artwork throughout is pretty poor, though I've read elsewhere some of it was taken out prior to publication. If it was anything like the art that made it through, I've no idea why. It's pretty lame.

So a guy cuts me free and buggers off, so I decide to check out where I am - and am captured, bludgeoned unconscious, and tortured - without loss of stamina, which I think is weird, until I'm told I'm dead. The same thing would have happened had I ignored the voice offering to cut me free. Damn.

Well within my restart boundaries, this time I high-tail it out of there at first chance. I can't bash the door down though, and have to fight no less than six swordsman. Come on! Not only have there already been two or three oppurtunities for instant death, but I have to fight six dudes, armed only with a skill of seven? And I can't even use my full complement of stamina - if they get me down to two, it's all over. Seriously?

Only a lucky succession of dice rolls keeps me alive, and my character decides it's time for a drink, and wanders off to a tavern for rest. Err, I've played enough FF books now to know going to a tavern is not usually a good idea when you're low on stamina, but I've no choice it seems.

The tavern owner is a mate of our old friend Tholdur, and tells me to hunt down the town's oldest man, Huw, for advice. I do, but not before coming across a 'crate of limbs' that seriously threatens my willpower.

The old guy, whom I have to assume is Welsh going by his name, isn't a lot of help. He asks for the ring Tholdur gave me, I hand it over, he makes me do a simple test and lifts my initial willpower and stamina by a point. Hmmm. Skill and luck, now that would have been useful!

Anyway, I follow his directions into the keep, kill an ogre, he shows me his secret passageway down, I take it, and am captured again. This time however, I'm taken straight to the Baron, who doesn't remember me. Hmmm. After killing and escaping from my captor, I trip and fall into some kind of slime thing, which eats me. Hmmm.

I don't know about this one. Everything was a bit vague, but not in the Creature of Havoc kind of way; it always seemed like a wrong move would end in instant death, which made it hard to get too involved in the story. The cover and art didn't inspire me, and the writing seemed a little bland.

Or maybe I'm just not a fan of the genre Beneath Nightmare Castle falls into. Others have rated it highly.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

#24 - Creature of Havoc

Looking at the adventure sheet, you'd think Creature of Havoc, another adventure from Steve Jackson #1, is a simple, classic romp through Allansia - you'd be quite wrong, as I was.

The first sign this isn't any ordinary FF adventure is the 20-page introduction; if you thought parts of The Phantom Menace were interminable, you ain't read nothing yet. The frustration of having to read The Hobbit before you can launch into the Lord of the Rings is capped off with the phrase, on the 20th page: 'Much of what you have read will be of little help to you...' Well, fuck you too, Steve #1. I've already used up half the time I've allocated to playing this book reading an intro which is mostly useless. Save it for the novels!

Anyway, in short you're some kind of beast, you're not really sure who or what you are, but you're probably the result of experiments that seem to have come right out of the new X Files flick (which by spooky coincendence, I saw earlier today - highly recommended). You can kill enemies with a single blow, provided you roll a double, which is pretty awesome.

So despite the long, expansive (yeah, that's what we'll call it) intro, I start the adventure wandering in some kind of dark corridoors, soon finding an injured dwarf. Trying to wake him up, I crush him to death... oops. I see. I don't know my own strength. He's carrying a piece of leather hide, with writing I can't read, which my character decides on his own is useful, and some shiny, round pieces of metal, which aren't. Apart from character development and immersion into the world of Creature of Havoc, I'm not sure why I'd find a piece of leather interesting and coins not so... but alright, I'm playing along.

But any goodwill I might have towards the book is ruined over the next quarter of an hour, during which every single move is decided either by the book or dice rolls. Not just tests of luck or or skill, which would still be random but keep the game part of the book individual to each player to a small degree, but things like 'roll 1-3, you go west; roll 4-6, you go east'. Throw in a few fights, and already we're three-quarters of an hour into starting Creature of Havoc and we've made but a single decision as to the fate of our character.

At some point, suddenly I'm able to choose where I go - but it's still all random decisions of east/west, open/don't open, etc. I look at a parchment written in what sounds like a mixture of Tolkien Elven and Welsh, get cursed by a zombie, find an orb.

Ah, the orb. It speaks to me, and I'm beginning to think I can read this: 'Did you think you could theif the orb of Zharradan Marr?' The rest of it's a little harder to decipher, so I leave... the orb seems evil.

The next place I randomly wander into burns me to death. Yep, that about sums up the book.

So, there are promising flashes in Creature of Havoc - the fact I think I could actually start to read the Elven/Welsh, the slow shift towards being able to actually choose what my character could do, and I assume that intro is useful for something. Surely!

The book also has more than the usual 400 pages, so perhaps Steve was going for something a little deeper than the usual hack-n-slash or was looking for a different way to expand an adventure than the usual extra-rules method. It seems like one with depth that perhaps I didn't get to encounter; perhaps I was a little harsh on Steve #1 earlier.

So much like the previous book I covered, if you've got the time, Creature of Havoc might just be one of the better FF gamebooks, but as a once-off, it's frustrating and random.

If you're wondering why I skipped book #23, it's because I don't have it. Anyone care to expensively lend a copy to someone (probably) on the other side of the world?