Saturday, 31 January 2009

#54 - Legend Of Zagor

If the title didn't already give it away, in FF54 our old friend Zagor is back for another outing, only four books on from his last. I blame the better-than-expected sales for Return to Firetop Mountain, more than anything - because to be honest, there is nothing in the path I took through the book that suggests this is specifically Zagor - it could have been anyone, any evil demon, really.

If I'm sounding a little weary, it's because the premise is wearing a bit thin, and no matter how many extra features an rules the book throws at you, there's no hiding the fact this is a dungeon crawl-item hunt, just one that's so completely open and non-linear it can quickly feel like a pointless bore.

So Zagor's now a demon, bla bla bla, convoluted back story, you have to kill him. In a break from previous adventures you get to choose one of four characters to play as,and  each have different skills and abilities - much like the popular-at-the-time Heroquest (now there's a new blog for when this one ends - playing the HeroQuest expansion packs!). Except here instead of an elf you have a warrior, who's part-Barbarian part-Wizard, the all-rounder whom it's almost impossible not to select.

I noticed the writers had very quickly fixed the new multiple-attacks system to be more realistic, if somewhat less fair to the player. It almost killed me straight up before even getting to the Castle Argent. Yep, this is one of them books where you have to travel to the main arena - and by boat, even. Difference here is you can spend luck to avoid any troubles on the way - now because each character has different modifiers to their stats, I began with a luck of 4. Hmmm. So of course I spent a point, as I'd be failing every future luck roll anyway. 

Arriving at the castle, I decided to check out the ruins, and was almost killed by a bunch of orcs. I found a visions well which told me 'Beware the traitor-wizard Remstar', without telling me who he had betrayed - us, or Zagor? 

I wandered up to the castle and shoved the doors open, only to stumble on a tripwire - the first of what I expected to be many failings of luck. I was attacked then by four orcs with identical skill and stamina sets - already Legend of Zagor was beginning to feel like a lazily-designed round of HeroQuest. I thought perhaps I should have put away my lucky green dice and pulled out the skulls and shields set. 

Opening the first door in the castle and eating my sixth meal of the day, I found an old barracks. Not much going on here, so I opened the one opposite - a drill room. Okay. Let's go further in.

I went through some massive doors, and west. More doors and random passages. Okay. Opened a door to a destroyed library, ate my eighth meal of the day - unlike the author, who must've been a few sandwiches short when he wrote: "Test Your Spot Skill. If you are unsuccessful, turn to 212. If you fail, you find nothing..." Wow, even the book doesn't fancy my chances.

Turning to the page I assumed was the successful path, which was through a secret passageway into a dark tunnel, I soon came across a door. On opening it, three theives cower in fear - I tell them no worries, I've got no gold to steal anyway, just a few coins - and hire one of them as my bitch.

So me and the thief (whose skills add a whole two points to my attack strength) wander randomly about, eventually coming across a merchant who'll offer me a free random key if I spend twice as much gold as I actually have. I KNOW the key is important, this is an Ian Livingstone book after all, but goddamnit. I grab some more food, realising I have the metabolism of a domestic cat, and continue my mission of opening random, ill-described doors. 

Eventually I come to a room defended by zombies, which knock me down to a single stamina point - before the marauding orcs turn up, the book says I can "quaff" down some provisions, should I feel the need. So that's the official FF term for wolfing down a day's worth of food (well, perhaps not a whole day in FF54's case) inbetween scraps. It makes me wonder why Rocky didn't just knock back chickens and potatoes inbetween rounds, or when that dick broke Daniel-san's leg, he didn't just mainline some beef (maybe that was a hit to his skill...).

It was all to no avail though, the orcs that came through knew how to fight under the new multiple combat system real well. 

Others rate this book really highly, some calling it the best in the series. I won't go that far, it's hard to say off one reading, but it doesn't look likely. The atmosphere wasn't there for me. I like being able to wander around a bit, but a really well put-together gamebook knows when to push the plot forward; it also knows when things are looking a bit cookie-cutter. 

I've only got one more book left to do before I run out of conventional FF gamebooks - one that didn't appear in the original series, Eye of the Dragon. After that, assuming I haven't acquired any more, I'll be onto the Sorcery! series - though two weeks from now I'm due to become a dad, so it may have to wait. We'll see.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

#52 - Night Dragon

Night Dragon was one of my favourites as a kid and reading it 15 years later, it's no surprise. One of the most complex, intriguing, enjoyable yet oddly fair gamebooks of the FF series, Night Dragon manages to not only combine open-ended gameplay with a developing, coherent plot, but has a scaling difficulty that never seems unfair or over the top - even if the titular Night Dragon has a skill of 17 and a stamina of 32. Not that I made it that far.

Reading on the back cover that the Night Dragon is a 'creature of pure evil from before time existed', I figured when it came to rolling my stats I'd need more dice. Instead I settled for the lucky, non-matching green dice I used on Island of the Undead and hoped for the best, rolling 10/17/10. Not bad - then the book let me add two points to anything - err, skill, thankyou very much. Combined with the 12 provisions, I figured finally the FF authors were acknowledging that some FF books were more equal than others in the difficulty department.

Something else the book kept from FF51 is the combat system when you're up against more than one opponent - that everyone rolls, and the highest lands a blow. This is certainly quicker and simpler than the old system of rolling against everyone, but only being able to attack one, the rest are parries; but it's also pretty unrealistic. I mean, if I have a skill of 12, and I'm up against 50 goblins of skill 5, under the new system it'd be a walk in the park, but under the old, it'd be a slog, but I'd eventually succumb. And if more than one has a higher attack strength than I do, shouldn't I be hit more than once? Despite this, I think it was an improvement, if only for the time and brainpower saved.

Anyway, a dark elf tells me about this evil dragon, and coming from a dark elf, I figure it must be pretty serious. Being in Blacksand, I decide to hang out a bit, 'cause despite what the text says I actually like Blacksand. I buy some crap from a local store, you know, the usual - a rope, luck potion, etc. On leaving, I can take the road or a boat - My skill's good, I don't trust boats, so the road it is.

I'm soon in Marzail, and not needing to gain any stamina, given the option I save money and crash outside without incident. I suppose in this way, Marzail has it over Blacksand. Heading on, I soon come across what appears to be a small group of druids or monks walking along the road. I join them, eventually crashing further north.

Unfortunately, these monks are less Desmond Hume and more the Others, but I wake up just in time to stop them murdering me in my sleep (okay, I promise, no more Lost references. Maybe). Being the Rainman I am, I notice their tattoos are of spiderwebs, each with exactly 20 strands.

The next day, I rescue a dude who's been left for dead by theives, adding one to my honour score. Being a latter-day FF book, there's loads of extra scores and things to keep track of - like honour (self-explanatory but seemingly irrelevant, at least as far as I got), nemesis (how well-known you are to the Night Dragon's minions), and time (how long has elapsed since you set off - two points a day, approximately). 

The guy we rescued lived in Sharndale, a town whose economy is based on fur trapping. Once again I have to question the writers off FF's grasp of economics, as I was able to sell some fur there for a pretty decent price. Maybe I was sharked.

Anyway, I went shopping, picked up a few more obviously useful items,  like an ice pick and a mirror, and some less obviously useful items, like walrus oil, and then split for Rentarn, where the dark elf told me a room would be waiting for me at the Rudderless Galley, a tavern.

Turns out someone else knew I'd be there, as it was full of assassins. It wasn't hard to convince the owner of the tavern they were the bad guys, and he apologised as he summoned the local constabulary. Bah, the cell was probably a better sleep anyhow - this is an Allansian pub after all. Less chance of a fight breaking out.

One of the assassins was carrying a plaque with the word 'Endimion' on it, which was my only clue. Four days of investigation, and I finally discovered it was a boat - a boat on which was my next contact, cruelly murdered as we met. Before he died he told me to head northwest and find the Frost Giants, to take them firewater, and 'Ismater'. Err, okay.

I went northwest, slept in a cave, then the next morning found a sign on the trail: 'TO IS   ER'. Ah, Ismater. The next day, the twelfth since I left Blacksand, I arrived in Ismater and hit up the local pub. One of them bastard monks was there, but he didn't know who I was, and I couldn't track him once he bailed. I decided to go shopping, but apart from the same old items on offer, the book told me there was nothing else of interest - like harpoons. Err, I'm going to fight a big-ass dragon, it's kind of like a whale, I could totally use a harpoon. If I need an excuse, will 'scientific research' do?

I pick up some firewater as instructed, then come across a shop named 'EVIL'. Awesome! I could do with some evil - fight fire with fire, and all that. Turns out the shop is named after the guy who works there, Nevill, and the paint is just flaky. I spent the last of my money on firewater, and when I mention the dickhead monks, Nevill kicks me out. Dang it.

Next up I'm forced by the text, in perhaps the only annoying piece of linerity, to go to the Dragon Conclave. It's like the UN, or the Justice League, but for dragons. They tell me there are all these magical items just laying about the place that will help me defeat the Night Dragon, but they can't help me because of some code that prevents dragons taking up arms against other dragons. There's no option to say 'take a vote and overturn that stupid rule', because I assume the Night Dragon is on the council and has veto power.

So I head southeast back to the Frost giants, bribing my way in a vial of firewater. Bad move it turns out, cause head Frost giant wants two vials, and a bunch of other stuff, in exchange for the magic shield. I challenge him to a rumble, and what follows is perhaps the weakest example of virisimilitude in the book: The chief is seven metres tall. He brings out his champion son to fight for him. The son makes the chief look like a 'pygmy'. But his skill is a whopping... 10.

And wouldn't one hit from this 10-20m tall thing kill me? Would he even notice the papercuts I was inflicting on his foot?

Anyway, I take the shield regardless, and head off in search of the sword. On day 24 I find myself in a tomb, and eventually up against an undead chieftan who'd carrying an awesome-looking shiny sword. Turns out it's the wrong one. Well, it might actually be the right one, but apparently it's too big and feels unweildy, and I dump it. Er, okay. The outside-of-book me raises his eyebrows and plays along.

But not for much longer. I'm out of food and struggling, and despite a wicked run of rolls (thankyou mismatched green dice) I'm dispatcehd by a Wizard Wraith living at the top of a frozen waterfall.

It's lengthy, it's involved and it requires maths. But still, Night Dragon just can't be denied a top-five placing at the FF table, I feel. You can detect spots where it's struggling to fit the plot into 400 paragraphs, and not an entry is wasted. From one reading I can't really comment on the mechanics of the extra statistics as others have, but they seemed to work well (though I've no idea how honour works, really).

It's hard to believe there are no plans to republish this one - perhaps a subtle, if unintended suggestion they're aiming the new series at a younger age?

Thursday, 22 January 2009

#51 - Island of the Undead

Sometimes, FF gamebooks just don't gel, and FF51 is one of them. I may have an engrossing mystery to investigate, but the seemingly random swings between open-ended wandering and forced, linear gameplay made it feel disjointed, confusing and incoherent. It wasn't Keith Martin's aim to make me feel like a character from Lost, but it sure felt like it.

The premise of the book is thus: you come from a fishing village in the Strait of Knives, which explains why you start the adventure with a knife, and not a sword, and have to suffer the Attack Strength penalty. Almost everyone in your village survives through fishing, which raises questions of supply and demand in Allansia's primitive, laissez faire economy. There are a bunch of wizards living off the coast on an island, and they control the weather for your village, while you supply them with fish and materials for their spells. 

It's not explained why the wizards can't just magic their own fish, but hey.

So, the story begins with storms and bad weather, which instead of blaming on global warming, my village deduces must be a failing on the wizards' part, so a bunch of us manlier men set sail to figure out what's going on, 'cause the usual trade boats are out, I assume? Unfortunately a storm ruins our boat, and I wash up on the shore alone, being attacked by zombies of the crew (now that never happened on Lost). 

It's only an hour's walk to the large hillock, which I assume is a redneck hill, in the middle of the island. Why it then takes two days to visit a nearby monastery then wander into a swampy region in the southwest beats me, but once again I'm going to make geek and suggest it's a space-time fluctuation, much like how I suspect another island might work.

Anyway, I wander to a stone building in the northeast, which turns out to be a monastery. Hoping they'd be warrior monks so I could find a sword and/or shield, I was disappointed to come across a zombie trained in unarmed combat, 'cause that means these monks shunned the use of useful weapons like swords and shields. Those things that could increase my Attack Strength and let me make more than a single stamina point of damage per attack. No big deal.

In the monastery I found a bunch of 'small' bottles of Herbal Liquer, and you think considering they increased my stamina as provisions would, I'd find more space in my backpack than for two. I mean, I started with 12 provisions, and would later pick up four jars of fruit, not to mention crystals, globes, other bottles, a lantern, a scroll, keys and more, and considering I had no sword and was likely to get injured, a lot, you'd think I'd make space for small bottles of Herbal Liquer. But no.

I also found a map down there, which was absolutely no help 'cause following it to the 'Mermen - Good' spot instead screwed me. Searching another room was apparently so tiring, I had to sleep. I said search, not tidy! 

I wandered upstairs, and was met with a giant pentagram on the floor. Given the option to jump it, I did, 'cause why wouldn't I given the chance? This isn't an Ian Livingsone book! I found a meditation chamber and fought the zombie Father Honorton, which was when I started to get the false impression that perhaps I could finish Island of the Undead. Why? Because I survived the fight, that's why. Remember I'm carrying a stupid knife (why oh why wasn't I born in the Strait of Flaming Morning Stars Coated In Napalm?), doing a single point of stamina damage each time while suffering the full two when hit! I did use three luck points to whittle down his.

The risk seemed to pay off though, I got a load of stuff for my effort. You know your'e not reading a Livingstone when instead of getting a single yet essential item you're landed with a shopping list's worth of crap, which you stuff into your sack forgetting the fact you passed on unlimited Herbal Liquer cause it was too heavy. 

Heading southwest, I was determined to find these 'Mermen - Good'. Passing on a rope bridge, I continued southwest, and continued a freakishly good run of dice rolls defeating a swamp alligator with two stamina left. One thing Martin did right was starting me with 12 provisions instead of 10. He could've put a sword on the beach too, I mean even the Losties have guns! And a detachable hatch could have been handy as a shield too.

After eating three jars of fruit, which I have to assume are smaller than the vials of Herbal Liquer yet still restored four stamina each, I trudged through the swamp, crashing on the other side. Eventually I reached the Plain of Swords, which would have been a handy place to have started. There are all these dead bodies and weapons, and despite the fact their blunt swords would have made much better weapons than my shit knife, I'm not given the option to have a dig. Yeah, I'm allowed to spend time cleaning up monasteries and fucking around with pentagrams, but not looking for swords in a place called The Plain of Swords.

Instead I'm attacked by a hydra snake, and saved only by my freakish dice again. I have a massive pile of dies/dice, but I think from now on I'll be using my mis-matched (in shade and size) green ones. 

I head west, and find a building. Is this the home of the 'Mermen - Good'? It's guarded by skeletons, so I doubt it. Skeletons aren't exactly known for their marine skills. I make a dash for the door, but they cut me off. 

How? Cause my 'presence' level is too high. If I forgot to mention this earlier, it's because not only does the score seem to barely play a part in the adventure, but there's no box for it in the adventure sheet. There's a box for 'honour', but 'presence' is more a cross between that and notoriety. It's a pretty major fuckup, and only made worse by the fact the 'time elapsed' box is not only completely ignored by the text, but is not even supposed to be on there. Yeah days pass, seemingly randomly, but I'm never prompted to care. 

Turns out the building is the shrine, not the 'Mermen - Good' home, so I head east. Why? Because the book made me. I'm on my way to the 'final destination'. What?! Nooo! And in no time, no sleeping, I'm there. Okay...

I try to sneak in the back door, 'cause there are lizard men and a monster guarding the front. Using oil from my lantern to squeak it open, I shoot up a staircase and find a nest of straw. A giant 'roc', a kind of bird attacks, surely this is my death. Despite the fact we have an equal attack strength (apparently not having a sword nor shield is no concern when heading to a 'final destination'), I kill it whilst only losing a single stamina point. These dice! In its nest is an egg, apparently three provisions' worth, and considering it's a raw egg and I'm almost dead,  I've no qualms in downing the whole thing in one. 

Heading down more stairs, and more, eventually I'm face to face with a killer amoeba, cause someone from a fishing civilisation totally knows a mutant amoeba when they see one. I thought this would be the end, but my freakish dice again got me through. Where were these dice when I was attempting City Of Thieves

I used a sapphire I had to open another door (I'm not sure how that works, but hey), and found myself in the Master Of Water's alchemical lab. If you were a master of water, I'm not sure why you'd need alchemy unless you were evil, but hey. I suppose the water economy hasn't quite kicked off in Allansia yet. If it had, I wouldn't have been killed by a loose eel.

Well... it's a long book, I've read elsewhere it can take over 200, perhaps up to 250 paragraphs to complete. Doesn't that make it pretty much a maze? Is there really that much leeway in the path you can take? It seems that way to begin with, but exercising that ability resulted in me being shunted towards the endgame when I was far from ready. 

Sometimes the writing seemed blunt and short, whilst other times it seemed to give far too much detail. At one point, I was dodging snakes and gaining luck points without any decisions or rolls at all!

So umm, not the best book. Maybe a different route would be more rewarding. 

And yes, there is at least one non-Lost-related link in that bunch. I'm off to find the new episodes now, I think they'd have been broadcast on the other side of the world and uploaded to mine by now.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

#50 - Return to Firetop Mountain

I didn't post last weekend because at the time, I was at the peak of a nasty dose of chickenpox. Off work for two weeks, blisters, headaches, sore throat, the lot. But I've made up for it here - at the end of this entry, there's a very special treat I hope will give you a good laugh, at the very least. 

So whilst I might have had a week off Fighting Dantasy, the small village of Anvil had ten years off after the death of Zagor way back in FF1. The background of Return to Firetop Mountain is obviously a retcon, considering it's virtually impossible to complete The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, at least in my opinion!

Zagor, before death, apparently cast a 'Raise Dead' spell on himself, which is activated once his nemesis is long gone, but with a catch - a requirement for the spell to work is that the caster provides a method through which it can be reversed - in Zagor's case, through the placement throughout his dungeon of numbered, golden dragon teeth which activate elementals deadly to his person. 

Say what?

Anyway, that all comes later. The extremely simple background (there's an evil magic guy no one likes? Sure, I'll kill him) and instructions (which almost read as if they're taken straight from FF1, in a probably deliberate throwback) present FF50 as if it's going to be a classic dungeon crawl ten years on (I see what they did there...).

The villagers suggest visiting Yaztromo, he of many potions and reasons to be grumpy. If fame-hungry mercenaries turned up on my doorstep every time they needed a hand, I'd be pretty grumpy too.  Anyway, I head off, but one of the villagers soon catches up telling me I'm being tracked by some of Zagor's goons. We chase them into the bushes, kill them and steal their shit. They're carrying gold pieces marked with the letter Z, which I can only assume means Zagor has issued his own currency, or these guys were zillionaires. Either way, we're both now richer than Zimbabwe.

The villager, Moose, finds a stinky piece of paper (how does paper stink?) in the shoe of one of the trackers, but won't read it. I do, and it all it is a couple of scary eyes who curse me down two skill points. 

Onwards towards Stonebridge, a man with a donkey lugging mushrooms accosts me: "I"m Dungheap Dan / the mushroom man / I'd rather be a poet / than a man who has to hoe it." There's no way I can't talk to this guy. Unfortunately he only talks in bad rhymes (there's a good reason he's hoeing it, I decide) so I take a mushroom and head on.

The next weirdo I come across is staked to the ground covered in honey. If there was a guy on the road to Yaztromo's I shouldn't talk to, it's this guy, but turns out he's not kinky and eccentric, just ran into the wrong crowd. I free him, and he gives me an invisibility ring - ah, I see. This is a classic Ian Livingstone item hunt, isn't it? My suspicions are confirmed when looking for a place to sleep, I find a hut containing an iron key imprinted with the number 142 (where was that key in FF1?! Kidding, I've no idea whether it would have been useful) and a wooden brick and ball. 

Sleeping in the cellar (I assume there was wine), I'm woken by footsteps above in the morning, followed by a horn sounding. Going upstairs, there's no one there. Hmmm. 

I arrive in Stonebridge, only to find out Yaztromo's on a doctor's trip downstream, so a bunch of dwarves and I set sail on the HMS Trogdor (the artwork is one of the book's better points) westward, which is a pain cause I just came from the west. We soon come across a half-dead orc lying on an upturned rowboat. Thinking I'm the good guy I suggest we rescue him, but it turns out (how did I not see this coming) it's a trap, and nearly half the crew are killed before we make like Russell Coutts and leave them for the water equivalent of dust.

It doesn't matter though, we're soon in Kaad, and evil doppelganger Yaztromo tries to shake my hand. If a dove hadn't landed on my boat and told me to look out for an evil green-eyed parallel universe Yaztromo, I still would've avoided death merely because the book gives you the option to either shake his hand or not. A grumpy wizard isn't going to be offended if you don't shake his hand, right? So why bother?

The ensuing fight is pretty touch and go - it's first hit kills, but only when you roll a double after winning an attack round. Twenty ARs later, I pierce its heart and it dies. I'm not sure why a magic doppelganger needs a heart, but I assume that's part of Zagor's convoluted plot device of giving do-gooders a chance, cause he's just too powerful otherwise.

Wandering into town I meet the real Yaztromo who gives me the whole 'Zagor has to play fair' story, and gives me a few suggestions of people to visit in Kaad before I go to Firetop Mountain. The item hunt pays off here, I give the wooden brick to a kid in exchange for his dad opening the store on his day off, where I'm allowed five items - tell me what you think of my choices: I bought leather gloves, because they're a little different and quite a specific kind of thing to have in a dungeon; hammer and spikes, cause there's bound to be climbing and/or killing things that can only be killed with hammers and spikes; a mirror, cause there'll be a thing that kills you with its gaze, or that casts magic spells that bounce off mirrors; a healing balm cause it sounds remotely practical; and a quill, ink and paper set because I need to take notes for this blog on something.

The next guy has not only the coolest name in all of FF, Zoot Zimmer, but a giant eagle that can take me to Firetop Mountain like it's a regular taxi run!

Fighting off an evil harpy on the way there (my eagle sucked, lucky I had some daggers to assist it), I was dropped off right at the entrance to the mountain without needing directions, which puts the eagle one up on Auckland taxi drivers at least. There's no pic unfortunately, but I imagine it's exactly as it is in paragraph one of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

Wandering in, I turn left, and left again. Found a room covered in dirt, in which I found a few trinkets (Livingstone, you're so transparent). There was a chain which I pulled, pulling a stone out of the wall. The text told me my head couldn't fit, but I had the option of sticking my arm in. This can only mean my character was so dumb the first thing he tried sticking into the mystery hole was his head.

Wearing the gloves, I extracted from the acid on the other side a small cannister containing a dragon tooth (zing!) with a picture of a heart inside a flaming circle - not one of the elemental-summoning teeth it would seem, just the tooth of an dragon gone all emo. Bugger.

The next room is an armoury posessed Ghostbusters-style - the weapons are floating in the air like that flaming sword from the Bible, surrounding me. There are too many to fight, and they're blocking the door, so I lay my sword down - and they all copy! I back out, weaponless and head on.

The next room contains a dead guy on a torture bench, wearing a ring. I wander over, and a goblin above tries unsuccessfully to drop a net on me, before running away. I grab the ring from the corpse, it's numbered of course, climb a rope and chase the goblin. I end up in a shaft, and find a new sword - it apparently belonged to the guy with the second-coolest name in all of Fighting Fantasy, 'Darkblade Skullbiter'. Still sounds like a George Lucas reject, though.

Anyway, I fell down a hole in the shaft, twisting my ankle, and landing in darkness. Turning on my lantern, I spied some chalk writing on the wall, and decided to read it. Bad idea - it was another curse. Don't read, I think is the moral of FF50. I was now to lose a stamina point for every paragraph I turned to until I ate some orc fleas. Err, what? Now I'm assuming there IS a path to some orc fleas in the book, which I can only assume is a coincedence, or another part of Zagor's plea bargain to stay alive. 

The next room doesn't have any orc fleas that I can see, but a pile of skulls. Clumsily landing in them instead of on the other side, they magically start flying about and form a moving wall, chomping all the while. If there was ever an awesome FF pic that went begging, it's this. 

Losing five stamina, I rushed out and into a room with a bunch of statues. The doors all locked, and some kind of Medusa woman called a gorgon came out. You'd think this is where I'd whip out that mirror, but no, I was frozen to the spot, joining the other statues.

The mirror, Livingstone! Surely that was an option before the luck roll. I know it's meant to be hard, but come on!

That's the impression I got from the one playthrough of Return to Firetop Mountain - it's really, really hard, and a little unfair. And I know he's a master warlock and all, but does every plot point, every encounter hinge on something magical? The charm of FF1 was in the variety, the personalities and oddities you came across - here, it seems like everything is out to kill you. Also, two thirds of my game was spent just getting to Firetop Mountain - there are loads of adventures which involve travelling across countryside and sailing, couldn't this one have been just an awesome rehash of the original? 

To be honest, the villain could have been anyone - I get the feeling it was Zagor because this was the 50th book, and at the time, planned to be the last.

I remember Legend Of Zagor being better, to be honest, so perhaps that one will be better.

Now for that special treat! I've been doing a bit of a house cleanout the past few days while off work, and came across a story I wrote and illustrated for a school project in 1993 - I would have been 12 or 13 years old at the time. It's called Zagor: The Warlock Is Back, and yeah. There it is, as a jpeg, about 1mb. It's perhaps the world's worst piece of fanfic before the internet made it popular that exists. Random trivia: the lead character's name is an anagram of my sister's, who was born the same year, but I wrote the story before she was named. Spooky!

Saturday, 3 January 2009

#49 - Siege of Sardath

The latter-day FF gamebooks were generally more complex in their structure and gameplay, and Siege of Sardath is no exception. There are numbered items, time, puzzles and clues galore - one even, as you'll read below, hidden in a picture with no reference from the text.

So you're a town councillor/professional adventurer (there can't be too many of those nowadays) who resides in Grimmund, next to the ominously named Forest of Night. Something not quite right is happening in the forest, and it's your job to find out what it is and put a stop to it.

In perhaps one of the best introduction-first paragraph segues in all of FF, you're discussing the issue with the other councillors, when suddenly one of them is revealed to be an imposter, some kind of shape-changing dark Bat-elf thing. Having rolled some excellent stats, I quickly dispatch him and ransack his corpse of a few random, who-knows-why-I'd-need-them-if-this-wasn't-FF vials. Before he revealed his true self he was suggesting we lead a small army into the forest, so we instead decide to do the opposite and just send one, me, in alone, Lost-style (I've been doing revision in preperation for the imminent season five, as in watching all of seasons one to four, so excuse me if I make further references - it's on the brain).

Stormsday. I decide before leaving to check in with the local astrologer, who tries out a new trick, summoning up some guy called Suma whose presence tells me to find this tomb, an amulet, and not the attention of the Flyers. Alrighty then!

Leaving town, a trader offers me a buunch of potions and things, of which I pick up pegasus feathers, 'cause they're numbered much like the vials I found on Bat-elf, and a love potion. I can't afford the good shit, so stick with love potion #2, which is apparently: 1 oz Stoli Ohranj vodka, 1/2 oz Chambord, Raspberry liqueur and 1/2 oz cranberry juice.

I sail up the river, getting off at the rope bridge and heading west. I soon arrive at Ash Cleeve, an elven village. I'm greeted by my old friend Sorrel - or am I? The text describes him as having a scar across his right eye, but the illustration clearly shows it on his left, so unless the illustrator drew him as if he was looking into a mirror, something wasn't quite right. When he accused me of being an imposter, I took action, placing my fate in the hands of the FF sub-editing department.

I fired off an arrow and his disguise wore off - 'Sorrel' was an imposter, and quickly slain by the other elves. They let me crash the night, and I head off northwest the next morning - Moonsday.

It's soon Fireday, and the text tells me I detect a 'blackness' hanging over Lake Sardmere - funny, 'cause there's no Lake Sardmere on my map. Speaking of which, whoever drew my map has a serious thing for spiders. I used to draw sea serpents on world maps as a kid though, so I suppose it's not that weird.

Turns out Lake Sardmere is beneath the titular Sardath, so it's just that my map is out of date. I get there, and the city itself doesn't look worth besieging, but there's a sailor struggling with her boat who I help out. She rewards me with a brass key, tells me to find this giant in the mountains to the north. Goddamnit, I thought Sardath was the focal point of this book! Misleading, to say the least.

I reach the mountains and find evidence the others have an army. Why I'm on this mission alone, I'm not sure anymore... particularly when I'm heading up the mountain, go into a cave and die because I don't have a certain companion who can speak Elvish. Damn intolerant demons...

This part of the book did get a little confusing though. At one point the book asked if I was following a 'runnel'. I thought no, I've not heard of this 'runnel', and was told I was dead. Huh? I turned to the other page, and discovered a runnel is a stream, which I was told to follow earlier in the book by the sailor, but was given no option to once I arrived at the mountain. I thought fuck it, I was following the stream, and was killed in another way anyway. Ah well.

So Siege of Sardath - not bad, I felt like I'd gotten quite far into the book without much trouble, and seemed to be making good time and collecting a fair few items; but the difficulty suddenly levelled up and left me for dead. It definitely has an atmosphere, and is well written and apart from the part above which left me scratching my head a bit, seems well put-together. 

But hey, I'm sure I said long ago I remember preferring the later books for consistency, at the very least. No more Sky Lords...