Thursday, 15 November 2012

Round 2: Caverns of the Snow Witch

Last time I tried this book, I came away thinking it would have been better titled Caverns of the Snow Bitch.

And this post would be better titled 'Round 3', since I tried it twice last time, rolling two skill scores of 7 and eventually having a giant tanty over how difficult it was.

This time, using the iOS Gamebook Companion app I rolled a skill of 11 - finally, technology has improved upon the humble six-sided die!

So, recapping the plot, there's a Snow Witch hiding out in some caverns (duh), and she's plotting to bring on a new ice age - one so severe, it will freeze orcs' feet in mid-pose, if the cover is to be believed (at least with that fur, his groin will stay warm).

None of this is mentioned in the book's intro though - as it begins, I'm escorting a caravan across an iced-over lake when we come across an outpost that appears to have been trashed by a giant non-witchy type creature which I know happens to be a yeti. No, I don't have special powers - I've just finished reading my previous entry on this book!

Because of this I know the yeti is a tough fight, so despite the book telling me I offer to hunt it down, in real life I had my fingers crossed behind my back so I don't have to, really.

I make my across a bridge, and am set on by two snow wolves with their stamina listed before their skill! Aarrrrghhhghh! Leading with my skill, I dispatch them easy, then make an igloo to hide in while I wait for the blizzard to end.

Once it does, I accidentally run into the yeti I was trying to avoid - all of Allansia to wander in, and I run into the yeti? What are the chances? Again the iPad plays nice, I easily cut it down, and its would-be victim tells me everything I already know about the Snow Witch (except the one detail that would have been useful, as you'll find out below) and the book proper begins.

It's not long before I've found the secret entrance to the caverns, and the first thing I find is a bowl of "yellow liquid" in a brass bowl. What the hell, I drink the witch's piss and what do you know, it's a healing elixir! Maybe this book isn't so brutal after all, depending on whether you classify drinking witch piss as brutal.

It's soon clear I've gone in a different direction to last time too, when I bump into a mountain elf - with my sword! Just as he's about to die, he tells me about the 'obedience collars' the Snow Witch makes her captives wear, gives me his robes and then, I can only presume, dies of frostbite. 

My next encounter is with a dwarf who gives me some balls of iron, presumably belonging to that orc in the picture up there. As he bails on me, he shouts "Beware the white rat!" which sounds like some kind of mafia code word, but this being FF, is probably to be taken literally.

Next up was the ugly robed man that killed me last time. Then, I couldn't decide whether it was him or his robes that were meant to be ugly - I can definitely report now, after looking at the illustration, it's definitely both. Even with just a black line drawing, his robe just screams purple and burnt orange.

We briefly fight, and when the glass prism he's holding (told you it was a brief fight) smashes, a genie emerges and doesn't give me any wishes at all - instead offering the suspiciously specific ability to turn invisible once - and only once. I even bet this once has to be within the pages of this book...

Given the choice of three exits, I choose the one leading into the mouth of a giant skull, of course, and I'm soon set up on by a crystal warrior, impervious to my feeble sword and skill of 11. Hmmm, how can I sneak past him? If only I had just obtained the ability to... OK, you get it.

My next encounter is with the aforementioned white rat. Aha! I know to 'beware' this thing. Um, now what? I don't have any ground minotaur horn, nor am I wearing a gold ring... oh. I have to fight it, with its skill of 12 and stamina of 14 'cause it's actually a white dragon with an icy breath every attack round.

Again, the iPad dice rolls save my bacon! Time to quaff some provisions, all these gaping wounds are making me hungry.

Checking out the sarcophagus in the corner of the room - it's the Snow Witch! She's a mind-controlling vampire! Do I have anything that can kill a vampire? Nope, just an elf's cloak and a dwarf's iron balls. 

That would be enough to kill a sparkling vampire, but not a real one.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Blood of the Zombies

It's been 30 years since the first Fighting Fantasy gamebook, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, was published. To celebrate, series co-creator Ian Livingstone penned his first new book in god only knows how long - and, based on my first go at it, it could be one of his best.

To begin with, it certainly doesn't feel like classic FF though - for starters, it's set in the modern world, so instead of gold pieces you're trading dollars, a sword is nigh on useless when you have a shotgun and provisions are now Medi Kits. OK, that's more videogame world than modern, but it makes more sense than wolfing down food to heal wounds - although, as we'll discover soon, that still works. If chocolate is food (I'm glad to report that according to Ian, chocolate is indeed food - and healthy food at that.)

Anyway. So, on opening up the book for the first time, the first thing I notice is there's sweet fuck-all in the way of instructions. It'd be fair to say most people playing this book would be well familiar with how FF works, but surely Ian expected a few newcomers? Turns out, he did - the rules aren't missing, they've just been streamlined, gutted, completely disemboweled - like going from Civilization IV to Civilization V, Ian's pretty much worked out what made FF interesting and what was just complexity for complexity's sake, changed it completely, and it works.

Yeah, I was skeptical that simplifying an already idiot-proof system was going to turn BotZ into a glorified Choose Your Own Adventure book, but I was wrong. It works.

Example of a non-glorified Choose Your Own Adventure Book. (And yes, I'm aware Turn to 400 used this joke before me.)

Ninety-five percent of the baddies you're going to come up against are mindless zombies, so what's the point in giving each skill and stamina scores? They're just cannon fodder. In FF books past, fighting a couple of zombies when you're armed with a sword was a big deal. But this is now - we have guns and old records, so four, six, 12 zombies - who wants to roll that many dice? Most fights I had were over in three or four rolls. That's awesome.

Right, so rolling my stats - or should I say, stat - the book said stamina is 2D6+12, but I know since its release Ian's upped the stamina stat to 2D6+20, so I used that. Apparently the zombies kept winning.
Your character is a bit of a geek, travelling around Europe looking for things like vampires and ghosts, without much success until you're kidnapped and imprisoned in a dungeon beneath a castle.

Switching into the first person now - I woke one day, five or six after being captured, determined to escape. Every now and then a drunk, fat guard called Otto would bring me some disgusting food, and I came up with a plan.

"Otto!" I shouted. "Ottoooo!" After several minutes of shouting, an angry Otto shows up and kicks me in the ribs, doing three stamina of damage and cracking a rib. Yeowch.

The next time he comes in, I do some kind of ninja move and try to grab his head between my legs - badly. He beats me into unconsciousness, and I only awake to discover I'm being torn apart by zombies.

So, using one of Ian's "five-finger bookmarks", I do what Daniel Faraday said couldn't be done and change the past, instead going for his waist. I pull him down, we fight, I win.

Turns out he took the job as a prison officer 'cause it paid good, but now feels like a prisoner himself, since he can't leave. I could stick another Lost link here, but you know.

Not feeling particularly sorry for poor Otto, I lock him up and leave - the first room I find is his so I go through his belongings, of course. In his Jimi Hendrix-adorned backpack I find pencils, dice (woah, meta), a book with half its pages missing and a magazine about accordions  "None of it is of interest to you", the accurately text tells me (what if Weird Al was reading?) so I eat his meatloaf instead.

Before leaving I take another look around and find my first weapon - a penknife. It's not exactly a cricket bat, but hey.

There's also $15, which I'm sure despite inflation is worth far less than 15 gold pieces.

The next people I come across are Boris and Gregor (is a weird name), stocking shelves. Boris says he can tell me what's going on in this place if I give him $10 - or I could just read the blurb at the back of the book, but I decide to pay him anyway, 'cause it's probably essential for the book's plot.

Boris reads the blurb on the back of the book, explaining how Newt Gingrich is planning - sorry, Gingrich Yurr - to take over the world with a zombie army he's creating by kidnapping people and injecting them with genetically engineered zombie blood. He says it's up to me to kill Gingrich and all the zombies, without explaining why he and his bandage-headed mate don't do it instead.

He's got loads of stuff for sale, but I've only got a few dollars left now, so I have to choose carefully. This being my first attempt at BotZ, I've no idea what to choose - can't even use past experience of Ian Livingstone adventures, 'cause this one's set in the modern day. In the end I settle for glue, tape and batteries. Who knows, maybe I'll find a light sabre, a model airplane and a ripped sheet of paper?

Before I go I ask if they've got any food, so Boris gives me some chocolate which reverses the damage done when Otto broke my rib, and off I go!

The next door I come across is very small - but it can't be goblins or anything, right? This is 2012, not 1982. Nope, it's old newspapers, rat poo, $2 and some bullets! Which, according to the instructions are infinite once you've found them, even if the text specifies a certain number of cartridges or boxes. Not complaining.

A few doors later, I come across my first group of zombies - finally - and I cut them all down with my penknife, and after the second batch, I've acquired a pistol.

Soon I've ascended some stairs to the first floor of the castle, out of the depths of the dungeon, and come across some portraits of the Gingrich family - now,  there's no magic in this world, right? It should be safe to look at the portraits. I find Gingrich Yurr, wearing a yellow waistcoat and carrying a bunny, looking somewhat like Richard Branson posing next to a light blue 1960s sports car (that little observation comes courtesy of Mrs Dantasy).

I did look for a picture of Richard Branson with a "bunny", but couldn't find any suitable for under-12s. If you know what I mean. 'Cause I've always written for 12-year-olds.

Behind his painting, there's a slim passageway - I shimmy down it, and find a shotgun. Now we're talking! If only this castle had some old LPs lying around... for the first time in BotZ I regret not being able to test my luck.

The switch to a modern setting certainly increased the range of random items you can find, and Ian really went to town. In the next room I picked up a calculator (in case I find Brainy Zombie), reading glasses (Nerd Rock Zombie), tape measure (Metrosexual Zombie) and a Romanian-English dictionary (Vlad the Zombie Impaler?).

Lucky I found that Hendrix bag, eh? I guess I could wear the glasses, wrap the tape around my fist, pop the calculator in my pocket and um, strap the book to my foot as a rudimentary shoe? I dunno.
The next massive group of zombies I mercilessly slaughter with a grenade, but little do I realise I should have saved that grenade for the dogs.

Yes, DOGS. In a castle full of zombies, I'm killed by a pack of dogs. I even tried cheating, and still died. I'd initially put on an awesome set of medieval armour I figured would help me, but instead it slowed me down, allowing the pack of dogs to catch up and knock me over, nibbling me to death in the parts of my body still exposed. 

Using the five-finger bookmark, I didn't don the armour, and was instead torn down the old (new?) -fashioned way.

Well, it's hard to say from a single reading whether BotZ is worthy of being part of the FF lineage, but I feel that Ian's really pulled it off (Wait, isn't this entire blog based on judging FF books from a single playthrough? Shut up, ow... ).

Despite the hackneyed setting - oh, zombies, how... original - the new rules and the switch to the modern day, BotZ felt like classic FF. Without a doubt.

The font was old-school, which helped, and the illustrations were also very, very FF - as in there was no attempt to go colour, manga, '3D' or anything. If you just turned to a random page and looked around, you wouldn't know it was a couple of decades removed from the classic era at all.

And despite my initial impression, once I got reading, it felt like classic FF, which for me, counts the most.
I might change my mind if I ever make it so far to see Gingrich face-to-face, but based on this first play, Ian nailed it.

Now, I'm going to go read all the other reviews I've put off reading until now, and hope like god to avoid spoilers.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Round 2: Scorpion Swamp

"What happened to Island of the Lizard King?!" I hear you ask. Well, I actually finished that one the first time around, so no need to repeat it here.

"But you finished Scorpion Swamp too!" you say. Yeah, but this one has three quests in it, and I only did one. It's like, a precursor to games like Angry Birds - yeah I finished it, but with only one star.

Speaking of Angry Birds, this is the first adventure I'll be trying out without two dice, a pen and some paper - instead I'll be using this Gamebook Companion iOS app. I also won't be making a map, 'cause I've already sat down with the laptop and iPad, and don't want to get up again to find a pen.

The backstory in Scorpion Swamp is thus: You're a "hardy adventurer", which I think is Allansian for "hobo" since you start the book without any cash. After meeting an old woman who gives you what passed then for a "magic ring" but is essentially what you and I would know as a "compass", you decide to wander into the titular Scorpion Swamp for shits and giggles, 'cause you know, how could things go wrong when you're a hobo with a compass?

Well, the ring's not just a compass - it also glows when in the presence of evil, like a novelty store mood ring worn by Emperor Palpatine or Chad Kroeger.

On the way to the swamp, which lies in the far west, I have "many experiences that a less seasoned traveller would call adventures", slaying dragons, orcs and wizards before the first paragraph is even up. Despite this, I turn up to the swamp penniless and without provisions - total hobo.

A man in the local bar (again, hobo...) tells me if I'm going to enter the swamp, I should have a reason, a goal, some kind of purpose - this isn't Skyrim Swamp, after all. Last time I worked for a guy called Poomchucker, so this time it's a choice between a good wizard and an evil one - let's go for the good guy, Selator, 'cause his name sounds like 'Skeletor', even if he'll only have lame spells to offer me like 'Friendship' and 'Bless'.

Selator wants me to enter the swamp and bring back a berry from the plant Antherica, which is used by good wizards (as opposed to evil wizards, not incompetent wizards, though I guess some would be,'cause any decent wizard would be evil if they could) in healing spells.

He gives me six spells from the neutral and lame - I mean, good - lists, and off I go!

First guy I run into is the Master of Wolves. He sounds pretty badass, but I don't have that "lame" Friendship spell, so instead hurl a fireball at him. His wolves are spooked and flee, but it turns out the Master of Wolves is also a master of magic, and with a wave of his fist he breaks my sword arm from afar.

We fight - well, not so much fight as he kicks the crap out of me - and I run off with my tail between my legs, down to 6 stamina already. This is not going well. Since I've hardly even entered the swamp, couldn't I  just head back and rest a few weeks while my arm heals? No?

Crossing a nearby stream, I'm attacked by leeches, another stamina point closer to my death... which comes at the hands (branches?) of the Sword Trees I used for firewood last time.

The Master of Wolves didn't make very good firewood.

Killed by a tree. This marks a new low for this blog.


But watch this space - my copy of Blood of the Zombies should be here any soon! And in case you missed it, I interviewed Ian Livingstone, the guy behind Tin Man Games and Alex, editor of Fighting Fantazine for a news story a couple of weeks back - check it out.

Friday, 5 October 2012

In the news!

Not so much Fighting Dantasy in the news, as Fighting Dantasy writing the news... For the day job I wrote a news piece about the 30th anniversary of Fighting Fantasy, its rebirth on digital platforms and the new book, Blood of the Zombies.

Ian Livingstone kindly agreed to answer a few questions, as did Neil Rennison from Tin Man Games - the company who'll be making iOS and Android versions of the games from now on - and Alex Ballingall, a fellow Kiwi whom you might know as the editor of Fighting Fantazine.

Without further mucking around, here's the link! It might be the first piece of writing of mine you read that doesn't contain a swear. Except this one.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Round 2: Deathtrap Dungeon

The idea of having a second go at the gamebooks I failed the first time around is that I can use the knowledge gained on my first go to know what not to do.

In theory, at least. 'Cause there's sweet fuck all in the blog entry for the first play through Deathtrap Dungeon that's of any use to me now! Except perhaps to avoid pits. Always a good strategy in FF, considering the powers that be named their compendium of monsters Out of the Pit.

So. I rolled up a 10/21/10 dude, which is better than the 7/24/12 guy I had last time, I guess. Potion of Luck it is, then.

Deathtrap Dungeon takes place in the city of Fang, which is in a part of Allansia that's clearly meant to echo southeast Asia - the province is called Chiang-Mai, it borders the River Kok, and the guy who wakes you up on the morning of what passes for the Olympics in Allansia is "a small man with slanted eyes". And no, they're not slanted because you cut them that way with your sword.

It was a different time, I guess. (And let's not get into what the "greatest hospitality" and "treated like a demigod" lines probably mean - these books were for kids, weren't they?)

There's a massive reward for getting through the dungeon alive, which no one has ever done. But your character isn't interested in the prize money - he's drawn to it because no one's ever come out alive. Kind of like what draws people like me to rabbit holes like Lost.

On first entering the dungeon, I find a box with my name it containing two gold pieces, and a message from the dungeon's designer Baron Sukumvit saying it is a "token aid". I'm no economist, but this is a dungeon no one ever leaves... and it has an economy? I guess the same could be said about [insert country/city of your choice here].

I'm quickly aware I've chosen the same random path as I did last time when I encounter the same bamboo stalk. What the hell, I'll drink what's in it - it gives me one stamina point, plus the ability to withstand melting-point temperatures without harm! I'm not sure how I know this - I can only assume on drinking any strange substance, I undergo a ritualistic prodding, burning, stabbing and melting of different parts of my body to see if it has any effect.

The very next paragraph I'm subjected to an increased air temperature... makes you wonder why the bamboo was there in the first place. Doesn't seem like the Baron had a very good business plan.

Couple of orcs later, I'm in the room with the dead barbarian and the goblet - JUST LIKE LAST TIME. It's like... I'm fated to go this way or something, like how I always run into the goddamn ganjees from Citadel of Chaos.

After popping over to the impaled barbarian and eating his meat (again, these books were for children), I head off (EDIT: no pun intended, seriously...)

The next encounter of note - or at least encounter I can make a pithy observation about - is the room with the dagger in a bowl of writhing worms. The full-page artwork clearly shows the handle of the dagger to be sticking out at least six inches from the slimy invertebrate enemy... yet if you choose to take it, "you lean over the pit and plunge your forearm into the mass of wriggling worms". The death wish theory is looking pretty good, right about now.

Turns out that dagger belonged to a giant fly, which I dispatch quickly before wiping the "vile yellow slime" off my sword. What, no chance to lick it off?

Then I come to the pit that killed me for good last time. This time I try swinging across on a rope, but it's been cut, and I fall to the bottom. In the pitch black darkness of the bottom of this pit, I eat two feeds and find a blood-red ruby. Sweet! Then I climb out, as easily as I fell down there in the first place.

Next up's an old weird guy who asks me a basic maths question. If there was something I was good at as a kid, it certainly wasn't playing FF gamebooks - it was basic maths! (No, seriously - I captained a maths-winning school team in 1992. I peaked seriously early.) He gives me back the skill point the book took when I fell in that pit.

Later on I run into a competitor in this game - no, not another reader (how weird would that be?!), a barbarian NPC whom appears to be wearing some slick '80s shades.

We team up like the lead guitarist and singer in an '80s hair band (going by his "grunts", he's the guitarist) and head west, soon arriving at another pit. Oh shit - this must have been the pit that killed me last time! Instead of trying to jump it, we both climb down. 

Anyway, half a buddy film later, we're at what surely must be the end of the dungeon - 'cause there's a dwarf who says we must undergo a series of tests to pass. Throm - the barbarian in the sunnies - says we should just kill him, but nah, the dice have been kind to me so far, I'll just undergo the tests, I tell him. Mainly because I doubt Ian Livingstone would have written a series of tests, then allowed us to bypass them by teaming up with a barbarian to kill a dwarf.

The first test is literally a roll of the dice, which I fail. The dwarf then says I have to take a pill marked S or a pill marked L. Hmmm, I wonder what those could stand for... luck it is! Then I drink my potion, leaving me better off than before I failed.

The next test is of skill - and snakes - so lucky I didn't choose S.  

The final test anagram decoding - which monster do I want to fight? NO CROP IS or RUIN MOAT? Well, NO CROP IS has ION OPS I'm sure, so RUIN MOAT it is. Dispatched without an issue.

Then I'm forced to fight my new best mate, Throm. It's close, but a few meals later and I'm back and ready to fight... the infamous bloodbeast of the cover. 

Again it was close, but one hit away from being allowed to turn the page, I'm dead. DEAD. SO GODDAMN CLOSE... I think? 

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Round 2: City of Thieves

Last time I read City of Thieves, I was killed by an apple past its use-by date. And that was on my second attempt - the first ended in a hail of arrows just after my much-hyped arrival in Port Blacksand, as it's better known.

I couldn't possibly do any worse this time, could I? With a skill of 11, stamina 21 and luck 12, surely it would be a walk in the park?

So the book begins with your character cutting his finger on his own sword, almost tripping over a black cat and a 50-mile trek across the badlands outside Port Blacksand, all to find some lazy wizard who won't protect his civilian neighbours from the evil Zanbar Bone, and kick some sense into him.

Taking advantage of my high skill, I cut my way past the guard (a haste that will come back to haunt me... spoiler alert!) and enter the city. Last time I went left, so this time, I head right. There's a madman, aptly named since he attacks awesome me with his skill of 5. I pocket his smoky crystal ball, and head on.

My next encounter is with an ogre who bafflingly, once dead (it's an ogre! Don't judge), bequeaths me a single white silk glove. Now, I'm a firm believer that Michael Jackson's white silk glove was the source of his powers, so I stick it on. "Bad" idea... it burns my hand, knocking 2 points off my skill and making it rather painful to grab my crotch and hit the high notes. Not that it's an option in the text. (And is it just me, or is the ogre's arm melting in the supplied artwork? Was he wearing the glove on his elbow?)

I'm then mugged by a bunch of fucking dwarves for all my gold. This is not going well. I don't even bother to stop in at the next shop - what use are flowers in this hellhole? Wait, is Nicodemus a woman?

Without any cash there's nothing for me at the city markets, so heading north I'm soon at the bridge where Nicodemus lives. I pay the bridge beggar my ghost money (just like last time, I got this far completely skint, despite being the land's most famed dragonslayer - I'm guessing people are just downloading their anti-dragon software these days) and pop down to the wizard's hut, get the instructions for defeating Zanbar Bone and move on.

First place I come across, down Candle St, is a guy offering 20 gold to anyone risking a 1 in 6 chance of death - how convenient, considering dice have 6 sides! I take up his offer, since I could do with the cash - unicorn tattoos don't sound cheap.

Between now and the north city wall, I win a game of baseball, fight some plants and buy some candles, before being accosted by some guards. It's not apparent just what I've done wrong - killing that guard, killing an ogre, gambling, stealing a flower... yeah, let's say it was stealing that flower.

I avoid them by climbing up a tree, but unlike everything single other thing in the FF universe, it seems jumping out of trees isn't guided by skill or luck. It's just... fatal.

Would have been better off attacking that entire pirate crew like last time.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Round 2: Starship Traveller

I made so many Star Trek jokes in my original Starship Traveller playthrough, I'm not sure how I'm going to make fun of it this time around. Since then (four years ago!) I've watched Battlestar Galactica, but unless there's a subplot in Starship Traveller where your science officer is seduced by a robot, elected president and starts a cult, I'm not sure that's going to work...

Recapping the plot - you're the captain of a ship, the titular Starship Traveller, and you're so inept at your job you let it smack into a black hole. You, and everyone else on board, awakes in a parallel universe, and the only option is to explore.

It's not made clear why you couldn't just turn around and go back into the hole you came out of, but hey, the book was written in 1983 and they hadn't even discovered the Higgs boson yet, so let's cut Steve Jackson a break.

(Could you imagine Steve Jackson and other FF writer Steve Jackson in 2012, fighting over who had the rights to the name @stevejackson on Twitter? Turns out they were both beaten to it by a pharmaceutical spambot that tweeted a single link.)

Last time it seemed I chose to go to wacky "what if?" type of alternate Earth history planets - and failed to find my way home, as always - so this time, first stop is a "barren" planet. Our engineering officer says we're almost out of dilibrium, which is essential for our ship to run. It's common in our universe, but in this one, it seems to be unobtanium.

We detour to an asteroid field, and send out one of the officers with a jetpack to investigate. In this case, security, since his skill is 7 - considerably lower than either of his guards - so no big loss if he dies. He dies. His replacement has a skill of 5. His crew are literally more than twice as skilled as he is! Why doesn't one of them take over? What kind of captain am I with a chain of command that favours an officer's retarded nephew over his skilled underlings?

Still, we need that dilibrium, so let's try... the medical officer. He dies the same way as the security officer - hit by an asteroid, his suit rips open and his body "vaporizes instantly", which is totally unscientific but again, 1983. They still thought AIDS was caused by the gay.

Shit. Um, how about my engineering officer, with a skill of 12? This dilibrium better be good stuff. He not only succeeds, but somehow on getting back on board, hands it to the engineering officer. I have two? If they look at each other, will it break the space-time continuum? What kind of ship am I running here? What if he's made of anti-matter? Does he have a goatee?

Anyway, half my original crew dead, it's time to get on with visiting my very first planet. (If only the text had told me they were wearing red shirts...)

The barren planet isn't so barren - a ship attacks as I approach it, I blast it out of the sky and head down to the surface. There we find dilibrium. FFS.

Onto the next system - a double star. But of course, before we get there, some more shit goes down - one of my security guards is going berserk after drinking 'water' on the planet of dilibrium. Since my medical officer is apparently nowhere to be seen, it's up to me to make a call. I say, 'Hey, eat some of this random powder we found on the ground on that shitty planet we just left,' and he does, and he dies, 'cause that's what happens you follow my orders.

At the double star, I beam down alone (if anyone's going to die this time, it's me) onto a planet populated by brown-skinned aliens whose voices have a musical quality. Planet of R&B slow jams, then. I ask if they can help us get home, and am told sure, but I can't enter the astronomy department with my phaser. Considering how many of my own people I've killed through my own incompetence, it's perhaps for the best that I hand it over... I'm then smacked on the back of the head, and awake strapped to a metal chair.

Turns out (deep breath...) the binary star system is tearing their planet apart, and they need our ship. So their convoluted plan is to make a replica of me which will broadcast a message back to our crew telling them to bring it down so they can take it. As opposed to just use their planet's military to take it. Or force me to give the order to come down - come on, it wouldn't be the dumbest thing I've done since landing us in this universe.

Somehow I foil this plan by thinking really, really hard, which affects the replica's thought patterns, because now I have ESP. He sends a coded message to the crew warning them to stay away - I'm guessing it was, 'Hey, come down, everything's FINE... when have I ever done you wrong?'

Next planet is blue-green, I beam down with the few original officers I have left, since the rest are prematurely promoted hacks... my science officer, engineering officer and a guard. We meet a race of hicks who know nothing of astronomy, so we leave, 'cause there's no way there could possibly be anyone else on this planet who knows anything about astronomy.

The next planet, we send down a recon party who find a crashed ship with no pilot, sending out a mayday call. The book, no shit, actually says "there being nothing else to see on the planet..." At all? If aliens landed in the middle of Huntly they'd probably assume there was nothing else to see on Earth and leave too.

(Quick aside for the New Zealand readers out there - I heard they finally took down the old Deka sign. Is it true?)

Soon after they get back, it's reported three of the engineers in the recon party have mysteriously died. Being the awesome captain I am, I jettison the ship as a precaution, and it crashes on the surface of the planet, killing the rest. The virus however is already on board - two more engineers die. (I have so many engineers, it's wonder we had a problem with the engines in the first place. Maybe we didn't? Perhaps they just have a really strong union.) My science officer suggests just sealing off the affected sections, which is you know, sensible, and after ejecting the air from those sections, condemning the staff still in there to death, it works.

By this point, I'm feeling more like Zapp Brannigan than Jean-Luc Picard or Lee Adama.

Next up we encounter a ship captained by Commander M'k Mal of the Imperial Ganzig Confederation. Sounds friendly enough... but he wants to arrest us, and his name (not to mention the 'Imperial' part of his confederation's name) sounds vaguely evil, so we blow him out of the sky. If there's one thing I'm good at tonight, it's killing. Indiscriminately.

The next planet we find is volcanic and unlikely to hold life, which means I'm unlikely to kill anything, so we beam down... and all almost fall into a volcano.

Next planet my science officer, engineering officer and I are trapped and scheduled to enter some kind of contest... we don't find out what because killing is what we do, and we kill all the guards and escape, without even a scratch.

Then my crew mutinies and forces me to fly into the nearest black hole, and we all die. Hey, at least that one wasn't my fault.

Didn't get a single co-ordinate, angle, speed reading, nothing. Worst. Attempt at Starship Traveller. Ever.

And that's saying something.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Round 2: The Forest of Doom

What I learned from my last playthrough of Forest of Doom:

1. If my skill rating is higher than my luck rating, do not eat the mushrooms. If it's lower, then eat the mushrooms. Just pretend for a second my in-world character is both a doctor and an astrologist, and is able to tell at which he excels.
2. If I find an enchanted sword, ignore the stupid rule that doesn't let it take my skill over its initial value - pretend it's just a +2 attack strength sword, and use it to give Ian Livingstone -2 testicles.
3. Don't fight things that look like dragons, even if you have an enchanted -2 nuts sword.

So as we all know, the aim of Forest of Doom is to find the two pieces of a sacred dwarf hammer. In the introduction, your character, camping out in the great outdoors, is awoken when a dwarf with the ironic name 'Bigleg' is shot with a pair of crossbow bolts. Instead of freaking the fuck out and getting the fuck out of there, you apparently get the guy a blanket and a drink and sit him down, listen to his final words - find the hammer, etc - as he breathes his last breath, then rob him of 30 gold pieces.

Only then does it come to mind to find this hammer and avenge his death, but not before a bit more shut-eye. It's not like that dead dwarf needs the blanket anymore, is it?

So, I get to Yaztromo's, again resisting the temptation to use my epic skill of 9 to cut him down in the first paragraph, and buy some of his wares - nose filters, of course, and a headband, 'cause they're funny, plus the obligatory rope, boots of leaping, etc. It's a forest, so insect and plant control potions could come in handy.

I wish he had a Potion of Wyvern deathness, considering my last attempt, but alas.

Onto the forest! I head east, and am accosted by a talking crow, which will give me "advice" for 1GP. Cheaper than a lawyer I guess. He tells me to go north, and that he needs 30GP to pay Yaztromo to turn him back into a human again. But he's a talking bird! I could go back to Yaztromo, ask him to turn me into a talking bird, and be done with this book forever, 'cause no page 400 is going to beat that.

But north it is. I come across a slimy, dark hole in the ground, in which I find a sting worm (quickly dispatched) and a mystery liquid. I quaff it - and it gives me a +1 attack strength bonus in my next two fights - something not even an enchanted fucking sword can do.

Mental note: always drink mystery liquids found in slimy holes from now on (this mental note only applies to FF gamebooks).

The next hole in the ground, described in the book as a cave, features an ogre who can't even handle being hit on the head with a rock. His captive, a weak and soon dead goblin, is wearing the hammer handle on a necklace! Sweet! There's also a mystery box here containing a toxic gas, but I have nose filters, so I'm all good. I'd also be all good if I just held my nose with my fingers, but I guess people didn't do that back in the day? Or I had -2 fingers.

Next on my agenda is to literally climb a tree just to kill an "ape man" and steal his bracelet, 'cause you know, that's just the kind of guy I am. Apparently.

Further up the path, I meet a centaur whom appears to have an impressive amount of pubic hair, but it's actually the bushy end of his tail, strategically placed to ensure I didn't mistake him for a young boy. I'm sure they didn't think of these things when they were doing the art back in the '80s.

I "bid the Centaur good-day", and he responds likewise. It is allegedly "pleasing to meet somebody who is not attacking [me] on sight". 'Cause the "ape man", the ogre, the goblin, the hobgoblins (did I mention them? No? Okay, there were hobgoblins. And evil grass) and sting worm were just begging to be murdered, weren't they?

He offers to carry me across the river in exchange for gold, which is generous. I'd pay gold to just to say fuck yeah, I rode a CENTAUR, but he's actually going over and above that and offering to get wet and take me somewhere. What a great dude. And since he's naked, I'm kind of glad he's not a young boy.

Now it's night, time for a sleep, and this time I'm not woken by a wyvern, but a giant spider. Kill it, sleep off the rest of the night, eat two breakfasts to restore my stamina, and onwards north it is.

Since I began the adventure by heading east, I guess the other part of the hammer will be further westward, so start inkling that way. I briefly lose my page, causing my character to undergo great confusion - "WTF, a dragon?! Two orcs!? A dude showing me his bicep?!" before coming to his senses and finding a well. I chuck a gold piece in, wishing for more gold, but nothing happens.

So I climb in the well, but miss a rung and fall... losing 2 stamina for the "deep cut on [my] forehead". All of 2 stamina. I apparently "curse", I'm guessing something like, "Fuck yeah! A bed of paper! All I got was a paper cut!"

After crawling through some tunnels,I find a couple of goblins I'm going to assume are up to no good, 'cause I'm gonna kill them and it feels better if I just assume. They've got gold and clay models of human hands, which has to equal cheese as the strangest thing I've ever picked up in a FF book. Cheese isn't weird in itself, it's just a strange thing to carry on an adventure in the days before refrigeration.

More crawling through subterranean tunnels brings me to a gremlin smashing clay models of human hands (WTF is going on here?) with a hammer. A HAMMER. But it appears to have a handle, so what do I care? Well, I don't have a choice. The book of course forces me into more murder.

My character then takes his medallion, 'cause it's made of shiny gold, but takes no interest in the hammer. At all. Not even to check if the handle was a fake.

More crawling, and I'm soon stabbed right in the thigh by another gremlin - with a cardboard dagger I'm guessing, since it did all of 2 stamina damage. I kill him, and find he's hoarding a "gold ingot" worth 28GP, but so heavy I have to drop something else in order to carry it.

Goodbye, used nose plugs.

Out of the pit (see what I did there?), and westward I find a hippie sleeping on a mushroom. Being the dick I am, I wake him up, and he agrees to help me if I give him 5GP - and for this crime, Livingstone calls him "the greedy gnome". Yesterday, I broke into a guy's home - he lived up a tree, so it was hard - just to steal his bracelet, and the gnome is greedy?

I break a piece off the ingot worth 5GP, and he tells me there's a dead goblin in a crypt up north. Okay, he is greedy.

I find a stone building with steps going down to where's there's a stone box and a candle, which surely is a crypt. Unfortunately, Livingstone only gives me the options of leaving, or lighting the candle, despite the fact I can already see there's a goddamn coffin.

But I don't have any Dust of Levitation, so... FFFUUUUU this better not be the crypt the greedy Maharishi spoke of.

I'm forced further north, right into the path of the fucking wyvern. AAARHRAGHGHGHGHHH! But I have a brass flute, which somehow I know puts wyverns to sleep! "You have a strange feeling that you must play it now." Ah, the famed Flutus Ex Machina! I wish every gamebook had one of these. (I just googled 'flutus' and realise that's not actually Latin for 'flute', it's, err, the term for a musical fart. Again, I wish every gamebook had one of these.)

I find in his lair a gauntlet and a ring, but you know, I'm not looking to defeat a magical creature am I? I'm just after a hammer. I don't need to risk wearing this shit.

North, a gang demands five items from my backpack - my choice - in the most illegal game of lucky dip ever played. Fortunately, I'm told to "treat all the items... as single objects, including each Gold Piece".

So I hack off another piece of the ingot, and hand it over. Broken into five pieces, of course.

Then I'm out of the forest, and fuck, it's taken ages and I only have one piece of the hammer. I can't be arsed going back around again!

So in real life I went to bed, got up, ate two breakfasts to restore my stamina, went to work, worked on some new songs, picked up my boy from daycare, cooked and ate dinner, had a bath, helped the wife attach some hair extensions and ripped some old CDs into iTunes, then sat back down again for another go at Darkwood Forest. While I was doing all these things, my dude for some reason was wandering back around the outer edge of the forest back to where he came in, instead of just turning around and walking back the way he came.

Bad idea, 'cause he's ARROWED to death on his way around. Yep, I sat down for a second night with Forest of Doom, only to be spared by a test of luck.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Round 2: The Citadel of Chaos

So last time I read The Citadel of Chaos way back in February 2008, I had too few Levitation spells, spent too long hanging around drawing attention to myself, rolled a skill of 7, and drank too much wine.

If we parallel this to my real life, well, I've solved none of these problems - do you know how hard it is to afford Levitation spells in a recession? - so my hopes aren't high for defeating Balthus Dire this time around.

Last time I didn't even get to him, so we'll take this in baby steps, eh?

I roll a 10/23/9 character, much better than last time. Roll a 13 for magic - three Levitation spells, just 'cause, Fool's Gold, 'cause there's not a creature in Allansia that can resist that funky beat, Stamina, 'cause it seems your dude forgot to pack some feeds before he left, two copies of Fire, 'cause it's best of the Planeteers' abilities, Illusion, 'cause tricks are what whores do for money (or cocaine), ESP, 'cause last time some crazy bitch wanted a gift, and I offered her a silver mirror, and she got crazy, Luck, 'cause I need it, Shielding, 'cause she tried shooting me with her eyes, Creature Copy, 'cause I want to see an ape with a dog face fight a dog with an ape face and a dog with an ape face fight an ape with a dog face, and lastly Strength, 'cause I'm a dude.

So! Onto the titular citadel. I didn't record my alibi for the ape-face-dog and dog-face-ape guards last time, so I'm going to go with... tradesman. Oh right, I'm not carrying shit. Better whip out that Fool's Gold spell. Ten minutes of white-boy dancing should convince them to let me in. Much success!

Inside, there's a bustling courtyard with a monument, some kind of fountain (ha, I wonder how many Stone Roses and Ian Brown links I can get into this one blog entry...). I'm just gonna stride across the courtyard... and someone starts shooting arrows! It's like that scene from Lost, except I'm not Frogurt. Well, I take one in the calf, but this is Fighting Fantasy, so taking an arrow in the k̶n̶e̶e̶ calf is no big deal - about the same as skipping breakfast.

Hiding behind the monument, the arrows cease, and it seems the monument is actually a temple. There's some drinks inside - one clear and bubbly, one red, and one milky. Now, I've drunk enough in my time to know to avoid the milky stuff and the red stuff, so to the bubbles it is!

Uh-oh. I'm knocked out, and have this wicked dream about a two-headed monster with a bunch of keys and a pet rat, wake up and decide to leave. No! I don't decide to leave! The book makes me. Stupid book.

One minor tentacle-related encounter later, I'm confronted by a guard I can't decide is Rocksteady from the Ninja Turtles cartoons or a one-horned Triceratops. A Monoceratops?

He wants a password I don't have, and I would like to use my ESP spell since I assume he must know it, but no. I'm forced to bluff. I'm also forced to bluff as a 'herbalist', 'cause I have weeds in my bag, which would have been good to know back on paragraph 1. And who needs Levitation spells when you have weed?

Anyway it works, 'cause rhinoceratopseses are stupid, and I'm soon wandering down a passage I'm not supposed to be, and I find a bell with a sign, 'Please Ring for Butler'. Yeah, alright.

A "hunchbacked, mis-shapen creature with rotten teeth, ragged hair and tattered clothes" emerges, begging the question whether this is casual Friday at the Citadel of Chaos, or Balthus Dire just doesn't give a shit.

He tells me to go left, so I go right (I failed last time, so I'm doing opposites, even if they're opposites I never tried), and end up in some trap, falling unconscious, waking up in that dream I had earlier.

"Iron bars at the window confirm you are in a prison cell of some sort. There is not much you can do but sit on the straw mattress in one corner until someone appears."

Err, what about cast a Strength spell and bust my way out? Cast a Fire spell and burn my way out? Cast an Illusion spell and just fool myself into believing I'm out?

Anyway, the dream is true - there's a two-headed lizard thing trying to feed me. But I guess it must have some keys, so I call it over. It's not as dumb as I think, so I cast an Illusion spell, making myself invisible. Now it comes over, unlocking the door. Time for my first fight! (Here in the citadel, I'm assuming I've fought before this adventure.)

He's easy, I escape, up the stairs, and like any escaped prisoner, decide to start fucking around. There's a door, and I can't help but knock it down. Inside, there's a sleeping midget of some sort floating above a table.

O'Seamus? Oh, it's a leprechaun. Irish. So I draw my sword, which he turns limp. He speaks some crap about three doors, so I just pick one at random.

It's dark! I'm being savaged by some beast! I pass out! I wake up and O'Seamus is laughing! It's been a giant practical joke! He gives me a magic sword - I hope its magic power isn't the ability to go limp - and a silver mirror "of fine workmanship", to differentiate from all the shoddy ones I might find elsewhere in the book.

The next person I meet is a woman washing clothes in a river, who tells me I need to find a fleece if I want to find Balthus Dire. She doesn't explain further, so I guess she's just obsessed with clothes and stuff. Token female character.

Next stop is a golem, whom I almost completely defeat with my own Creature Copy golem, finishing him off myself. The book's not clear on what happens if my golem wins - do I get to keep him around to fight off other golems and gentiles I might meet? Apparently not.

He was guarding a jar containing a spider with the face of a man, which is something I think I might have needed last time around, hallelujah!

Not so hallelujah? Once again picking the one staircase (of two) that turns into a super-fun-happy-slide, just like last time. There goes one Levitation spell... and I would have used another soon after when coming across a chest separated from me by a trench, but the book insists using a Strength spell, and jumping, is better.

Now, I only have one Strength spell, so no, I won't be doing that. I instead pick up the rope, loop it over the chest, and pull. It's heavy. It pulls me in. That's two Levitation spells...

Then, according to the book, I "curse at the fiendish trap that had been laid for greedy adventurers like [myself]". Really? Without opening it? Following our ram-raid of Firetop Mountain last week?

Next up's the ganjees that killed me last time. I still have one Levitation spell on hand, after which I forget the magic words somehow. Their very presence causes me to lose 1 skill, 2 stamina and 1 luck, which is surprising since I still apparently have an arrow sticking out of my calf which no longer seems to be a bother.

The inevitable happens - I've nothing that can work against them, and they scare the fuck out of me until I jump out a window. But ha! I have a remaining levitation spell! Right? Right.


It doesn't work, and I plummet to my death... again.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Round 2: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

Because I'm a glutton for punishment, and/or 'cause I'm out of other ideas, I'm gonna give all the gamebooks I failed the first time around another go.

Except this time, I'm going to do the opposite of what I did last time, take into account suggestions left on the previous entries, generally try not to be as such a hopeless loser.

The first time around in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, I made it past ol' Dragonball Z pictured on the cover (the 'Z' is for 'Zagor'), only to sit down on his treasure chest and have a sook, 'cause I couldn't open it.

What will happen this time? Well, whatever it is, it won't be cheating. I spent nearly an hour this evening trying to find my box of FF gamebooks - but it would have been easier finding the two parts of the Hammer of Stonebridge.

Then when I did find them - the books, not the hammer - in the bottom box of a pile of boxes, of course - the only one that was missing was The Warlock of Firetop Mountain! WTF?

So I downloaded the iPad app. Yeah, I get to use the iPad for once, instead of my three-year-old. So if I fail again, fuck you Steve Jobs!

To get my skill, stamina and luck scores, I have to shake the $1000 toy. Not a good start. I roll a skill of 7. Not a good start. Stamina 20, luck 9. The shakes needed are quite vigorous too - by the end of this, I probably won't need to go to the gym tomorrow.

Actually, with a skill of 7, I probably won't even make it to the gym.

So, let's get started! Hey, what do all these buttons do? *press one* Oh, that was quit. Now I have to re-roll... 12 /17/9. Ooer, that's much better! Honest.

There's also the option to read the book in whatever font you like. Even Helvetica! This quest just got a whole lot more sophisticated. But kind of sucky, so back to Georgia it is. FF just ain't FF in sans-serif.

I come across a door, and I have to roll my skill. I try clicking on the 'success' button, but am denied! No more cheating, it would seem. Another shake of the iPad, an increased heart rate (seriously, they're not cheap) and I succeed, 'cause I can't fail. Every time I shake the iPad for a foregone conclusion, I'm going to bill Ian Livingstone a dollar.

I fall into a pit, losing 1 stamina point. As I leave the room, a giant scroll appears, ramming home the fact I just lost 1 stamina point. It even has a sound effect! I shudder to think what will happen when I lose two. I wonder if I'll get the sound of someone crunching on a carrot when I eat a feed?

I'll probably find out soon, as I wake a sleeping orc. Fight time! Oh dear. Fights on the iPad are interminable! Half the time I shake the iPad, nothing happens. Then when the dice actually roll, it insists on adding the rolls to your skill score slower than a six-year-old!

Oh, you can just click on the screen... never mind.

Next door - isn't that just the drunk orcs? Next one. Snake - key! Yay. (See how much faster everything goes when I don't have to risk mashing my iPad on the ceiling?)

Next room - oh, here are the drunken orcs. And here's where I discover the first problem with just clicking the screen during fights - if you click the wrong option, like 'ESCAPE!', there's no going back. D'oh!

This time around, I'm noticing how many stuck doors there are in Firetop Mountain, and I'm enjoying how having a skill of 12 is pretty much like having a skeleton key to the whole dungeon, that's actually my shoulder. Except when it comes to opening chests, of course.

Next up I find a circular iron shield, which I can only take by dropping one item I'm already carrying. The ebook thinks I'm still carrying the Potion of Strength I drank a few pages back, so thinking I'm outsmarting the game, I drop it... only to realise having unlimited Potions of Strength could actually have come in handy further down the track. Damnit.

Something I didn't have last time I played was cheese, which I got this time. Hopefully not unlimited cheese. That might begin to smell eventually. Though, if I had unlimited cheese, I'd have no need to be in this dungeon, since my life would already be complete.

Got my second key at the minotaur - I'm definitely feeling lucky, despite just wandering at random again. Hell, it was four years and one day ago I last played this book, I can't remember which way I'm not meant to go!

Next stop is a room of paintings that look innocuous in their original black and white, or black and sepia, as they were in the original book, but obviously NOT TO BE LOOKED AT in the iPad version, which renders them with evil glowing faces. I think I'll just skip on through this room...

So, past the river and onto the maze, I'm quickly knocked out and awake "in the south-west" corner of a room full of zombies. Good to know despite suffering a concussion and being kidnapped whilst unconscious, I still have my innate sense of orientation.

Or at least I thought I did. A few 'pages' later, I'm onto the real maze. It's not as painful when you're just clicking links, not worrying about page numbers - just where I'm going to find this third damn key.

Or at least that's what I thought. The maze was as painful as ever, and took nearly 20 minutes of clicking around to get through. Imagine turning all those pages...

By the time I get to Zagor himself, I've got three keys - hopefully the right ones. Dispatch him while sustaining barely even a scratch, and then it's onto the chest - and it opens! Holy shit.

For the first time ever, I get to read page 400 of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain - and it doesn't disappoint. Forget the booty - the chest also contains instructions on how to control Firetop Mountain, and everything within it! That's awesome. What if you took over the mountain, and just to keep things simple, decided to call yourself Zagor? And 49 books later, it's YOU the adventurer is coming to kill?

So not fuck you, Steve Jobs. Thank you!