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!


Anonymous said...

The gold dragon tooth you fin in the canister is supposed to be numbered 315. Without it you can't finish the book... come to think of it, you can't finish the book without at least skill 11 and luck 10.

Andy said...

Hey Dan, I've really enjoyed reading this series of reviews! If you don't mind I'll put a link up to your fabulous Zagor story (thanks for that!)!

dan duran said...

Ha, is fabulous really the word for it?

Lady Oblada said...

" giant eagle that can take me to Firetop Mountain like it's a regular taxi run!"

I LOL'd in real life at that line. I read this book awhile ago...I know this particular "trilogy" holds a special place in the hearts of many FF fans, but I hate Zagor. I really do.

On another note, glad you are feeling better. Chicken Pox suck.

Gamebook Fanatic said...

Welcome back! :)

About the items you bought from Deep Sea Dowland:

Leather Gloves - good, and as you now know, essential (yes, the golden tooth is one of the elementals, it's a bug in the early edition of the books that doesn't allow you to finish the game)

Hammer and spikes - there's a spot where the hammer may be useful, but it's not a spot you have to get to to win the game. Thus, not neccessary at all

Mirror - good. As you already know it's useful against the Gorgon (technically not essential, but I've never been able to beat the damned creature without it).

Healing Balm - obviously useful, though not essential

Quill ink & paper - totally useless

There's one other essential item you need to get here (besides the gloves) which you didn't pick up, so your quest was pretty much doomed from here.

Ed said...

The gold dragon tooth you fin in the canister is supposed to be numbered 315. Without it you can't finish the book... come to think of it, you can't finish the book without at least skill 11 and luck 10.
If you get the correct item (and assorted other essential ones along the way) it is possible to figure out what number the tooth should have. Nevertheless, the lack of numbering is an error, which was fixed in the recent reprint.
The book is a typical late Livingstone difficulty-fest. Still, apart from missing one essential item from the shop, you were pretty much on the right track as far as you got.

Gamebook Fanatic said...

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.

One more thing: you (or rather your character) actually have to do quite a bit of reading to win this game. Once again, Mr Livingstone is punishing readers for doing what they are conditioned to do and have to do. :)