Thursday, 20 May 2010

#48 - Moonrunner

So I'm out of FF gamebooks, or at least I thought I was till one of YOU sent me Moonrunner! Thanks Mark! I'll post you one of my albums, though I'm not sure whether that's really a fair exchange...

Moonrunner's a good one. You're a bounty hunter, but not named, so you can pick one, I guess. Is anyone here not going to pick Boba Fett? No? Okay. Let's move on.

Mr Fett has to track down the last big war criminal still bugging the Old World town of Blackhaven, which is in no way a sideways-universe Blacksand, not at all. Except it totally is, but with a more Sherlock Holmes-era London kind of feel.

The book's true distinction is letting you pick a bunch of skills from a list, but implementing those skills naturally, and in a way that makes the narrative feel open and enveloping. More on that later.

This guy Bennet is giving me the info-dump, and in the very first paragraph he's killed, John Locke-on-Naomi-style - a thrown knife in the back. A quick look reveals who forged it - Alcham Lugosh - which is really useful... not, and I jump out the window in pursuit of the assassin. I spot him talking to a man running a horse and carriage, and disappear. I leap onto the now-moving carriage, and wait. And wait. And soon enough, the jockey drives the whole thing into the "filthy" river.

Growing up where I did, I know all about filthy rivers.

Anyway, I lost that brand name knife trying to swim out, but being stinky and wet didn't stop some beggar woman trying to chat me up. Beggars can'[t be choosers, I guess.

As it's the time of night when even pubs in a hole like Blackhaven are closed, I decide to pay a visit to Mr Lugosh. It's an option, so I guess he's an all-hours knifeman.

I should have known better though - it was a trap. Literally - I fell into a pit with 12 dead guys, all missing three fingers. This must be where woodwork teachers and guitarists from Black Sabbath go to die. That, or the New Testament story of the 12 disciples was a rose-tinted version of events.

The room starts filling with water, and I reach for a beam above to try and pull myself out. Oh yeah, that's right - Mr Lugosh is some kind of Ginsu fiend, and I quickly find out why so many dudes are missing three fingers. His knife skills are so precise, he makes sure his traps always cut off precisely three fingers - no more, no less, and all on one hand - just enough to make you lose 1 SKILL and a massive 2 STAMINA points. Really? Later in the book I get 'roughed up' by some ruffians, and I lose 2 STAMINA points. What did they do, chop off three of my toes?

I escape the pit by floating to the top as the water rises (slap to the forehead), and morning has dawned, so it's time to hit the pub. Not the doctor, the pub.

Some trickster is trying to con people into giving him money, so I try to use my own con skill on him. The book only gives me the option of using sleight of hand, which I don't have. This will be a recurring feature. Still, I win, and am loaded and set for the rest of the game.

I ask the bar wench about the Cabal of the Werewolf, the dodgy group behind the bad guy's plans. The entire bar kicks out their stools, I assume in a manner I think only David Cross could describe, and eye me up. I repeat my question, and lose that 2 STAMINA I was talking about earlier.

It works out though when some old lady professer gives me soup and money, and tells me I need to find these six MacGuffins in order to beat Mr Bad Guy. And only nine hours in which to do it! For some reason. What if I had waited till a reasonably drinking hour to visit this bar? "It is 4pm and... you're out of time! So ah... let's just get wasted."

To be fair, the quests to get these six items were quick but interesting. I got to con some orcs (no, I don't need a medal), buy a magic shroud for almost nothing, kill a demon. I also went to the Three Broken Fingers Tavern, which seemed appropriate at the time.

I got three of the widgets out of six, and as if by magic - or plot requirements - came across the secret meeting of the Priory of Sion, no wait, the Eternal Fraternity of the Rosy Chalice. Either or. I got gassed, and woke up in a coffin. Uh-oh.

I wouldn't tell Mr Bad Guy what I knew, so had my face eaten off by rats. Once again, sleight of hand would have been handy, somehow. I guess it extends to sleight of face?

Was a good read though. Yes, rats eating my face killed me.

But despite my jabs above, it was a well-written book, with much illusion of freedom and openness, despite the few obvious plot-pushing points. The skills do work well, even if in my ignorance of the game, I chose poorly. For the record I chose combat, so I could be like Sayid, con so I could be like Sawyer, disguise so I could be like Man in Black, and tracking so I could be like, er, Kate. Or Locke. If you've no idea what I'm talking about, sorry - I'm not going to try and explain five seasons and 16 episodes of Lost to you :) (One more episode... I'm about to explode!)

I liked the author Stephen Hand's other FF book, Legend of the Shadow Warriors, too.

Anyway... the latest issue of Fighting Fantazine is out, issue #3, PDF download with loads of Fighting Fantasy goodies. Check that out, and if you need some sounds to listen to while you're reading it, I've got a new album out under my Radio Over Moscow banner - it's called 'Hide the Decline', and you can download it free or chuck me $5 and have a dynamic, less compressed mix of the album and bonus goodies.

All good. Till next time...

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Combat Heroes 1 - White Warlord

So, aside from the few I haven't got copies of yet, I'm out of FF books (and it's been 20 years since I tried a round Advanced FF with a bunch of highly uninterested intermediate school friends, so you can forget that!).

But a workmate dumped me with a few gamebooks from his personal collection he wanted done, so hey - why not?

I think though just grabbing one off the pile at random was a bad idea.

Firstly, White Warlord does not require dice. That was my first clue I was throwing myself in the deep end. The second? The paragraphs don't have any text.

Err, what?

This book is like a first-person-shooter, except without the shooting, and in book form. I know that sounds... retarded, but I'll try to explain.

So, pretend it's the mid-'80s, and two-player first-person-shooters don't exist yet, or they do, but suck. But things sucking or not existing never stopped nerds in the '80s, thus the Combat Heroes series was born.

Thing is, to have two players going against each other, two books would be needed, much like two controllers are needed these days. And much like console makers nowadays only ever ship one controller with the console, forcing you to buy a second one if you want to play two-player, Joe Dever realised not everyone would have both books (or a friend to play with) - so included a solo game in each.

Thing is, the solo game has no combat, at all, let alone any heroism. In White Warlord, the solo game, your arch enemy captures you and throws you in a dungeon. To win the game, you have to escape the dungeon, which you can only do so by collecting a bunch of trinkets in a particular order, and not be killed by traps.

And that's it. Hmmm. It's like Deathtrap Dungeon, without the plot.

So after two pages of instructions, skipping the 20 or so pages of instructions for the two-player game (thank god - it looked more like a technical manual than anything), I'm thrown right into it, on page 7.

The game itself is largely illustrations of what you can see directly in front of you, with a four-pointed compass showing possible directions to go in. If an action is available, there's a secondary set of paragraphs of text telling you what happens.

At first, I found it disorienting, despite trying to keep a map. I'm so used to N-S-E-W, that when I'm suddenly confronted with directions based on which way I'm facing - a no-brainer when playing on the PC or PlayStation - I've no idea which way I'm going. Even after getting the hang of it, almost every illustration that doesn't have a picture of an axe swinging at you looks pretty much the same. It might as well have been the infamous Warlock of Firetop Mountain maze - all text, no obvious way out.

After wandering around and diminishing my stamina, I mean endurance, to a single point, I had some luck - I found my way back to where I started, and went the other way. Almost immediately I'd found the first trinket of 10, then a second. Then I was killed by a swinging axe.

The traps were so brutal, and my luck in picking the right random pages so bad, I kind of wish I had dice to decide my fate for me.

I imagine this book would have been O for awesome if I'd sat down with a friend in 1988 and played it. Nowadays, it just came over as the most clunky way you could ever hope to present a one-on-one fight to the death in a maze, ever. The two-player instructions took 10 times as many pages as the single-player instructions, and that about sums it up.

Though, at least it would have lived up to the title Combat Heroes!

If you played this book a lot though, you'd get real good at flipping pages. Ninety percent of what you're doing is flipping pages. If you were playing the exact same story on a PC or console, it'd be 15 minutes of gameplay, including mapping, failed attempts and learning, to clock it.

So um, yeah. Might have been great in its time, but there's a reason people still get into FF, and I'd never heard of Combat Heroes till now. I trust Dever's Lone Wolf books are better!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Sorcery #4 - The Crown of Kings

Eight hundred pages - twice that of a normal FF book. Epic. But only if you finish it, of course.

And I highly doubt The Crown of Kings is able to be completed without completing the three before it. I guess.

Regardless, the book begins as the others did - with the assumption your character, if not you, has completed the previous three. It's a little disconcerting, considering there's no explanation in the intro, bar the usual blurb familiar from The Shamutanti Hills.

It's like dropping in on Arrested Development two seasons in, or Lost at any point that isn't the pilot.

So, night's approaching, and I have to choose from three caves - small, medium or large. Who am I, Goldilocks? Still, I chose the smallest cave, because you know, it felt just right. Or something.

There's a monster of sorts in there - I can't see it, but it sounds horrific. Time for a spell! No matter I can't remember what does what - come on, I've died how many times now? Can't expect my memory to be that great. HOW! Don't have an orb crystal. KIN! No gold-backed mirror. Fuck it, I'll just use my sword.

It's a jib-jib - the tribbles of the FF world. Great. Still, for some reason it's guarding a parchment I can't read.

The next day, I leave, taking some dust and three - and only three - pebbles with me. Heading on across a rope bridge, I'm soon confronted by a bird man. It won't translate the scroll for me - so I blast it with a magic fireball and stab it to death. That's how I've decided to roll - at least till I run out of stamina to waste on awesome magic tricks.

I stop to rest in another cave, this one has a message from a guy called Colletus (the slack-jawed yokel?), who's hanging out by the 'Groaning Bridge', apparently.

After a non-moaning bridge, I'm confronted with a ridiculously dangerous landslide. I know it's ridiculously dangerous, because it took me four lives to get past. Yeah, I died. Four times. But I didn't think any Fighting Dantasy entry should be fewer words than pages in the book being reviewed! I tried HUF - pretending my reanimated corpse still carried the Galehorn from The Seven Serpents - and died. Tried ZIP, and died. Tired NIF, mostly because it was on offer, and died (it creates a pungent smell. I'm not sure how it would have worked - perhaps the smell would attract a pterodactyl, Riddling Reaver or deus ex machina who'd whisk me away to safety?) . ROK? Um, rocks are already rocks. Dead.

WAL is the one.

Moving on, we're pretty much outside the fortress. Stabbed a couple of guards as they drunkenly slept, ate their food, usual Saturday night stuff in the suburb I live. Although they obviously had grog and food, they must've had nowhere to sleep, 'cause I had to sleep in another cave. Not sure where I found a cave at the gates to the fortress of Mampang.

Anyway, Libra came to me in a dream (no, she couldn't translate my scroll either). "At each stage of the journey, you have been successful." LOL. Anyway, she says she can't help me once I'm inside the fortresses - so I take the luck and stamina bonuses now.

Just as well too - at the actual gates there are four guards, none of them sleeping. I DUM one of them into a stupor, and narrowly slay the other three. Five stamina points left.

Once in the gates, it's as if I'm back in the land of the three bears - three doors to choose from, etc. Except this time, I choose... poorly. I found three Black Elves (who couldn't translate my scroll either). So far so good. Being on only five stamina points, I thought I'd try and befriend them. So far again, so good. But then...

I wasn't asked to test my skill or luck or anything. It was just assumed this would be my attempt at befriending a group of Black Elves.

"So, how do you black-skinned creatures keep from bumping into each other at night?"

Oh dear. They were apparently "deeply insulted" by my "harmless remark". I'm not at all surprised they kill me. I guess it was 1985, and it was still cool...

Weird way to end the series, huh?

Anyway... the link I mentioned last night is now tidied up. As in, if you click it, you get my current musical endeavour's website, etc. The album's free to download in some formats, so go nuts. Can't say it has a huge FF influence, though the next one - almost done already - might.

Oh wow.

I just realised a couple of links on my site are woefully out of date, haha! I've upgraded some, but the banner at the bottom of the site will have to wait till the morning.

Yes, you can still access my 'personal' blog on Livejournal, but nowadays it's just a feed from the blog on my website, - another link I had to get into the 211th decade (210th?). I dropped the old musical moniker last year, to start anew.

It's late here, so that one at the bottom - if anyone ever dared scroll down 20 entries and click on a banner ad - will have to wait till tomorrow.

If you've read this far, you must really love this blog, so where do you think I should go from here? We're running out of FF books, and it's been 19 years since I tried to host an Advanced FF game. An awesome workmate has lent me some Lone Wolf books, and a couple of others, is this the new (old) thing, you reckon?

Anwyay. If you're itching for a FF fix in the meantime, you should check out Fighting Fantazine. Alex, a fellow Kiwi, has done an awesome job getting this webzine together, it's a few issues old, and includes edited-for-typos, swearing and nonsense-versions of entries from this blog.

Watching season six Lost, I'm almost convinced a re-do of this entire blog is needed - done as if the continent of Titan was under the water. WOAH

Friday, 5 March 2010

Sorcery #3 - The Seven Serpents

Much like John Locke, death can't stop the hero of the Sorcery! series, and so here we go again, with part three - The Seven Serpents.

It's been a while since I did part two, enough time to go back to Hogwarts and get a bit more magic training done. Well, a skim through the back few pages before beginning.

So, onto the book. The bad guy's got some magic winged serpents who've found out your on the way to wreck his evil shenanigans, so they're on their way to tell him. All seven. And they're magic. Not so magic they can just magic themselves back to bad guy HQ (which despite the fantasy setting, I like to think resembles Globex Corporation). Or fly.

The seven serpents are kind of based on the elements. And the sun and moon. And time. If they aligned themselves with Captain Planet, we could've knocked this climate change business on the head a long time ago. That 'heart' kid really screwed things up.

So, into the Baklands. Right on the first page there are storm clouds, the region is unmapped, and there's a big fuck-off scary bird illustration. Great. Turns out they're Nighthawks (fighter of the Dayhawks?) and they're here to fuck my shit up. I think hey, I know my magic spells, having just read my spell book prior to my resurrection, and cast WAL (it makes a wall). They fly around it.

Luckily, an even scarier bird turns up and frightens them off, and it has a message for me - the serpents are on their way, blah blah blah. It then leaves, under a cloak of invisibility. Doesn't offer to give me a ride to my destination or anything.

Moving on, I stop to eat and a talking tree tells me to go east, where a hermit will give me some advice. Ents don't lie, right?

This one didn't. I came across Shadrack, a hermit in the middle of nowhere that knew all about my journey. Come on! If a hermit in the middle of the Baklands, which no Analander has ever successfully crossed, knows about my mission... I'm again wondering how important it is to kill these serpents. Word about my mission is probably all over the Old World Twitter by now.

The next bunch I come across don't know me though. A group of Centaurs tell me there's a snake charmer nearby, so I head off in search of him. Maybe he's managed to lure some of these supposedly magic serpents.

He hasn't, it turns out - he's just got a bunch of ordinary snakes, which he controls with his magic flute. No, neither of those was a euphemism. I cast SUS, quickly work out he wants to know what's in my pack. Nothing he wants, it turns out, so in true FF tradition, a fight breaks out. He's a good snake charmer though - his six pets attack me one at a time. I don't know, I've never had to train a snake before, but they don't strike me as the kind of animal you can get to fight in sequence.

Maybe I found a really, really narrow hallway?

Anyway, I barely win, and have snake bite poison running through my system. Still, I pick up his magic flute and some holy water for my troubles. Isn't it convenient that everyone in Titan carries magical items on their person?

The poison will kill me by sundown if I don't find a cure, so I trek on quickly. Despite my efforts to avoid another rumble, considering I'm bleeding stamina points at double the normal rate, I'm soon attacked by an Internet Explorer. Wait, I mean a Firefox. If it was an Internet Explorer, I'd probably have been hit with a virus on top of my poison. BA-DOOM-TISH!

It eventually kills itself - no joke. Every time I hit it, it explodes into fire, risking my wellbeing, but losing 1 skill and 1 stamina itself. Not being the brightest creature, it exploded into fire on a single stamina point. If it was Internet Explorer, the book itself probably would have crashed.

Night soon came. I decided to trek on, in the hope of finding some snake poison antidote before the morning, and in doing so, lost 4 stamina points instead of 2, which killed me. I like to think I walked myself to death, rather than died from poison. It's somehow more noble.

The next book, The Crown Of Kings, is something like a million pages long. It's gonna take some mental preperation to dive into that. I've had Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged sitting on my bedside table for about two or three weeks now - that's where I put it when I got home from the library, and that's likely where it will be when I have to return it. It's just so... epic-looking. Well, that, and apparently it's a sickening book no self-respecting liberal kind of guy should ever take seriously.

We'll see which I get to first.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

#53 - Spellbreaker

Reading some of the previous reviews of Spellbreaker, I think a better title for the book might be 'Gamebreaker'. Luckily, I didn't knowingly come across any of the multiple bugs it has, nor did I notice when I owned it the first time around. Probably 'cause I always cheated.

Anyway, so you're some guy who unwittingly lets the Titan equivalent of a Sith steal some magic book from a woefully undefended monastery, which in four nights will allow the demon pictured on the right (I assume) escape the snug, overheating coffin he's been trapped in. With the help of Skeletor, it would appear.

And despite the fact you've rolled a SKILL score of 7, it's somehow up to you to retrieve the book. Okay, maybe you didn't, but I did. Luckily (pun intended) I rolled a LUCK score of 12, which staved off the inevitable just long enough for me to have enough material to write this blog entry.

So, book thief guy left a parting gift in the form of a demon, one I had to fight in the very first paragraph. With a SKILL of 7, I was facing the very real probability I'd set some kind of FF record for lameness. I got through it, and Brother Hugo, whom I picture to be a cross between Desmond Hume (in his monk phase) and Hugo Reyes, healed my wounds. But only some of them.

The next morning, it was time to pursue the thief, who was probably using dark magic and his day in advance to hightail it back to Evil HQ. Still, I took a few minutes to check out the herb garden, on the monks' advice. They only had three herbs, which is kinda lame for an old-timey religious order. I thought they were smashed the whole time. I chose this lame herb harden over the library, thinking I only had time for one. An hour later, after waiting for some old fat bitch I'd agreed to escort in exchange for cash (escort in the traditional sense, not the naughty sense - I'd need a lot more than 10 gold pieces for that), gamebook mechanics meant I had to spend it sitting about grumbling about how shitty the herb garden was, instead of reading essential information about the plot-to-be in the no doubt awesome library.

The woman has an entire entourage of bodyguards, but she's paying me, with my epic SKILL level of 7, to defend them all? She's stupider than she is fat. The gaudy pimp rings should have tipped me off. Her name is Attana. I call her Fattana.

Anyway, not long after heading off I fail to spot an ambush by brigands, who almost kill me and make off with Fattana's jewellery box. I don't really care, but she tells me if I find it I can have what's inside, and gives me a key marked '252' - the year of her wedding. She's older than I thought.

Ditching that hapless crew, I venture into a small town, and hit up the local bar. If you've read my previous entries, you'd know this is a regular feature of this blog/FF gamebooks. Found some guys who were having a storytelling competition, so thought yeah, I've got some great stories, I'll enter.

Unfortunately, the book didn't give me the option of telling the story about that time I biked 100km through a gorge or woke up one New Year's Day in a tent wearing someone else's shirt, so I lost. I had to roll two die beneath my SKILL level instead. How does my swordfighting prowess affect my ability to tell a good story? Fuck knows.

Anyway, the next day I went to the markets to waste some more time, and a guy asked me if I wanted to buy a hawk. That's not a question that needs asking. Of course I want to buy a fucking hawk. Unfortunately, I'd already bought some cheap Shroud of Turin knockoff, and couldn't afford it. I could afford a whole backpackfull of cheap 'herbs' though, and made my way west towards the city gates.

Came across some religious morons, which the book's description led me to believe they were a cross between the Hare Krishna guys who dance through the CBD here in Auckland every Friday around 6pm, and Opus Dei, as they appeared in The Da Vinci Code.

Turns out I was kind of right - they were the 'Acolytes of Pain'. If I ever form a black metal/goth rock band, it will be called the Acolytes of Pain. They think I'm some kind of heathen (really? No wai!) and try to kill me. I'm already low on stamina, so wolf down three meals and jump the city walls. If I could do that in real life, I would have moved out of Hamilton long before I did.

On the outside though, I don't last long. I survived a werewolf attack through liberal use of LUCK and some of those crazy herbs, but am soon torn apart by werewolves.

If it wasn't werewolves, it would have been the plague tormenting the next town on the road anyway.

Soooo... thanks to my workmate Dan #2, who has loaned me this book and a bunch of others - non FF, but a few Lone Wolf ones and some others that look like Mad Max. I've still got to get through the last two Sorcery! entries at some point too... I should get reading.