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.