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.


Deb Clague said...

This has always been one of my favorites. Even 'Return of the Vampire' is AWESOME (but it's impossible to win without cheating). Great book to read around Halloween as well : )

Ed said...

The writing isn't as atmospheric as it could be, but I'm a big fan of this book, too.
I remember that on my very first attempt I got killed by the Minor Thassaloss (which you managed to avoid).

Gamebook Fanatic said...

Keith Martin has always been my favourite FF authors. Many of his books are essentially item-hunts and clue-findings, sort of like Ian Livingstone, but generally more skilfully written to fit in the story (no random writings on boulders somehwere in the middle of a forest to tell you the secret of the big evil guy's hideout), and also less harsh and unforgiving in comparison (take this book for example, there are essential items to be found, but instead of giving you 2 essential quest items, the book gives you 2 pairs of essential items which are substitues of each other, meaning you can succeed by obtaining either pair (and you have the chance to get all 4 if you play well, which gets you extra rewards). And one of them is impossible to miss.

In some of his later books his puzzles and riddles may get tedious (Island of the Undead being one of the prominent examples), but I still love the flavour of his books in general.

And Keith also makes an effort to make the final combats against the Big Boss interesting in most of his books. It makes your major quest seem important despite all the sidetracks and minor quests. They're not quite as extensive as the famous Balthus Dire combat in book 2, but like I said he tries to make them seems like the real climax of the book. I get really annoyed at some books which I largely enjoyed but gets turned off the the anti-climatic final encounter (Daggers of Darkness, Rings of Kether being examples of this).

dan duran said...

Your guys' comments make me feel like I'm the wrong person to be writing this blog! Haha.

Gamebook Fanatic said...

Nah, your blogs are a good read. I enjoyed every entry so far, even for those books that I haven't read. I look forward reading to the rest of them. :)

Andrew said...

This was one of my favourites too. I remember it not being stupidly difficult, either, and with several very cool characters.

Marsten said...

Definitely one of, if not my utter, fave FF books. I'd like to invite you to have a look at my own playthrough, over at

FightingFantasyFan said...

I loved this one! I've been on a Hammer Films kick for these past several months, so this one tickled me. One of Keith Martin's better books, for sure.

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