Sunday 25 September 2022

Shadow of the Giants

*taps microphone* 

This thing on? Hello? Is there anybody out there? 

It's been a while since the last post on Ye Olde Fighting Dantasy. 

How olde? Olde enough the author began this blog in his 20s, and is now the age of the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Olde enough that in the beginning, he could have grabbed a sword and wandered off into the Icefinger Mountains in search of treasure and glory at a moment's notice, but now would have to make a detour to drop a dice roll's worth of kids to drop off at Yaztromo's on the way. Hell, there are 50 percent more younglings in this house than there were last time I posted! (Lose 8 STAMINA.)

My copies of the two new Fighting Fantasy books Shadow of the Giants and Secrets of Salamonis turned up in the mail yesterday, once again proving it's quicker in New Zealand to order books from the literal other side of the world than it is to order them locally. 

Thought I'd try the Ian Livingstone-penned Shadow of the Giants first. Based on the classic ruleset - 10 provisions, one potion, blah blah blah, I figured it would be a classic romp through the usual FF tropes and a way to easy my back in (but didn't the potion of luck used to also boost your INITIAL score too? It doesn't here, and - spoiler alert - I really could have done with it). 

Speaking of spoilers, if this is your first time here and you haven't had a chance to read SOTG yet, you might wanna stop. This is gonna be full of spoilers. It's pretty much nothing but spoilers. Abandon all complaints of spoilers, ye who enter here. Or read on, I don't care. Be a cheater! 

I rolled a 12 for my SKILL, always helpful, 19 for STAMINA and 9 for LUCK. 

In Shadow of the Giants, you play an adventurer off to find some riches in Firetop Mountain. So yeah, a classic romp - but I didn't think it would be quite that classic! Now I don't want to start off on a negative note, but the rules say you start with a sword, but the introduction here says you don't, and the first thing you've got to do is buy one. Proofreading, Ian! (That's actually part of my day job, so if you want to make an offer...) 

I buy a Fire Sword, because it sounds more kick-ass than the Vampire Sword, and the salesman chucks in a free dagger like I've just collected enough promo coupons from my local supermarket.

Next up I hit a local bar and hire a dwarf, Higgly, to come with me into Firetop Mountain. We visit a local mystic who tells us a poem about dragon eye colours and which means death, which was incredibly specific and no doubt it was just a coincidence the first thing Higgly and we find inside Firetop Mountain is a chest with gems the same colour as Mystic Mary mentioned in her sonnet. 

Higgly's convinced this chest must contain the Warlock's famed treasure, which you know, would have saved us a lot of time back in the '80s if he'd just left it inside the front door. 

Inside is a crown with a bunch of dudes carrying swords. Now I don't know about the character we're playing in the book, but I've been on enough Livingstonian dungeon crawls to know a cursed item when I see one. I tell Higgly he can try it on if he wants 'cause I sure as hell aren't, and sure enough, it starts crushing his skull.

"It's the Crown of Chaos, I'm doomed," he tells me, knowing exactly what it was but sticking it on his head anyway. Too stupid to live, really. 

The dudes with swords end up growing into Iron Giants, who storm off destroying everything in their path. Presumably with shadows?

I head off without the dead Higgly, and eventually find myself in the town of Hamelin, looking for this guy Marik who apparently knows how to stop the Iron Giants' orgy of destruction. 

But time doesn't appear to be of the essence, with a plethora of things to do in Hamelin - including checking out a graveyard and opening a sarcophagus for no fucking reason at all, except that the option was there. (The internet knows if you find a sarcophagus, you open it.)

I won't spoil what happens when you do, but by the end of the encounter I found myself with a Dragon Sword, in addition to my Fire Sword. Especially convenient at a later point in the book when I got pickpocketed, and for some inexplicable reason was allowed to choose the item that was pinched. I hope that thief got a good price for the surplus dragon-fighting sword he secretly swiped from my enormously long backpack. 

After failing to win a pie-eating contest and spending time in a clock store (pun not initially intended, but now that I've noticed it in my proofread, definitely is), I eventually run into Marik. He tells me the secret to defeating the Iron Giants is an item fetch-quest, and I head off.

Eventually I enter a cave Marik told me was the correct one, only to be confronted with a Screaming Demon. Rather than fight, it asks me if I have some Goblin Earwax. I.. I don't. Who does?! So it kills me, as if I was King Arthur unable to find a shrubbery


So... Shadow of the Giants is definitely an Ian Livingstone book. You're bombarded with items to find or buy, without knowing which completely useless-sounding thing will be essential; people tell you incredibly specific things which you just happen to need to know three paragraphs later; and instant deaths abound (well I can't say that for sure, but what little I know about Bayesian statistics suggests if I died an instant death for not having a jar of earwax...) 

Secrets of Salamonis up next.

Tuesday 1 May 2018

The Gates of Death

Remember how I started the last entry, for The Port of Peril?

Of course you do, you read this blog every day.

The _____ of _____. It's back for this latest entry in the Fighting Fantasy series, the first all-new title in what must be the 400th relaunch of the franchise - The Gates of Death.

The new cover designs are awful, but if The Gates of Death is a sign of what's to come for the series, it appears to be in good hands (not evil hands, like those things in the Warlock PC adaptation. Good game though.)

The premise is pretty generic - there's a disease spreading across Allansia that's turning everyone into zombie-like demons - but within those confines, it appears author Charlie Higson has created a late-era classic.

I say 'it appears', as opposed to 'has', for the usual reason - I died. Probably early. Didn't help that you begin the adventure not only with no food and no weapons, but lose five STAMINA points in the first f**king paragraph.

That's the most brutal opening sequence since Up.

He waited decades for a sequel to Robot Commando, but it never came.
My mission to rid Allansia of this plague took me to the court of Lord Azzur, on a coach ride with a couple of women who didn't mind picking up a hitch-hiking stranger carrying an ancient Egyptian weapon, and into a town with literal purple rain.

If you would like to party, turn to 1999.
Having failed to complete the book, I'm not yet sure if this is a Livingstone-style fetch-quest ('If you have a frog in your pocket, turn to...' This actually happened) or an inscrutable Jackson puzzle. It seems like the former, but with twists, like the 'Nostalgia' perfume, which acts like a videogame restore point, and weapons which have varied effects on Attack Strength and damage.

Very early on I was being asked if I had certain items, which suggested various paths are on offer right from the very beginning.

For the record, I died after a big spend-up in Salamonis - that town with the purple rain. I can't remember if any of the shopkeepers were selling winged boots, but if you see them on the shelf, grab them. Trust me.

(Seriously, I can't get over the purple rain thing. I'm on a massive Prince buzz at the moment - I've spent half the day today playing with a software emulation of the LM-1 drum machine that underpins most of his classic music, and am half-watching a live gig on YouTube from 1985 as I type - and for this book to arrive in my letterbox, with this scene in it, is weirding me out.)

At least the author's name is on the cover, I guess.
This time around, there will be no Emancipation for Allansia. No victory Parade for me. Something something Batman.

Tuesday 19 September 2017

The Port of Peril

The _____ of _____. It's a classic Fighting Fantasy trope, and Ian Livingstone goes all-in on emulating the classic gamebook experience in The Port of Peril.

The rules are basically the same as those laid down in the series' original run, nothing fancy, although the font and artwork are distinctly more modern.

But something else Livingstone appears to have resurrected for this entry is the fetch-quest nature of his gamebook writing. In the first paragraph - the very first, before you've had a chance to make a single decision - in addition to the classic sword/backpack/provisions combo, you're saddled with... [deep breath] a roll of twine, a candle, a brass bell, an oil lantern, a knife, some chalk, a brass owl, a rope, some copper nails, a water flask and a unicorn head goblet.

Anyway. In The Port of Peril you play an adventurer/sword for hire, who's a bit down on his luck until he stumbles across an idiot called Gregor who's come into the possession of a treasure map.

And so is 'Dantasy' but at least I have an excuse.
Switching to the first person, I decide before heading off in search of fame and fortune, it would be good to eat. Funnily enough, the book lets me eat - and gain 1 stamina point - on the very first page.
Err, what? A quick rescan of the introduction doesn't say anything about losing stamina or starting on less than usual. As I mentioned, it's a classic FF by-the-numbers setup.

And it gets worse. Before long, I'm buying a 'demon dagger' with gold I didn't even know I had, giving me skill points I can't even use. I'm beginning to wonder if Ian Livingstone's staff are too in awe of the master to tell him when he's failed a skill roll.

So. Heading out of the rule-breaking town of Chalice, which I thought was the 'port of peril' in the title but clearly isn't, it's soon night and I need somewhere to crash. I find a cottage - abandoned - and decide it's better than the woods.

Something is clanking around in the cellar though, and there's a gross smell of rotting meat, so I figure I'd better check it out. It's a zombie! Soon it's a dead zombie.

Someone is upstairs though. I wait to see what they're going to do... bad idea. The man-orc (the implications are... unsettling) quickly drags an iron stove over the trapdoor, locking me in the concrete cellar with the zombie corpse, forever.


I did a stocktake today.

I know I borrowed some of them for this blog a few years back, but the books I'm missing from my own collection are the final five of the original Puffin run back in the '90s.

If you have doubles, or see them cheap online anywhere, let me know!

Tuesday 5 September 2017

Howl of the Werewolf

One of the very late entries in the Fighting Fantasy canon, Howl of the Werewolf begins with a CCR song.

Because when I think of werewolves, I think of John Fogerty.
Why couldn't it be 'Fortunate Son'? There's nothing fortunate about the protagonist in this book: me. You. Whatever. You know how it works.

It starts with a fight against an alpha wolf and his pack. But it turns out the alpha isn't any ordinary wolf. It's of wolf and man (trust me, I'm going somewhere with this.)

Bitten by a werewolf, I'm not off to a good start. But luckily I'm saved by a woodsman named Ulrich. His first name isn't mentioned, but let's call him Lars (told you I was going somewhere with this).

Something tells me 'Creeping Death' is going to be an appropriate caption for this image, and this book.
Ulrich gives me this withered man-paw thing,he chopped off the swearwolf. Sorry, werewolf.

Let's hope vampires aren't next.
I throw it in the fire and curse my bad luck. Lars tells me to settle down, there are three options: find a cure, kill Rhys Darby the alpha werewolf or go see what 'wisewoman Grandmother Zekova' recommends. I opt for the latter, 'cause I don't really want to try fighting again. Didn't go so well last time.

Zekova makes a potion of herbs and my own blood, drawn with a knife, which slows the lycanthropic infection (but probably gives me tetanus. Win some, lose some).

We're soon attacked by another group of wolves - strangely chanting the 'little pig, little pig' refrain of nursery rhyme fame - whom Lars, Zekova and I dispatch with the efficiency of a pig armed with a brick house and a cauldron.

Zekova tells us we need to find the wolf that bit me, which we do promptly, and kill it. Which we also do. Then Lars turns into a bear ( ♪ SHAPE CHAAAANGE ♪) and I have to kill him, which makes me the new drummer for Metallica. But I'm still a werewolf for some reason, my quest incomplete. I think I might not have been listening to Zekova properly. Or Metallica.

After a sleep and eating three breakfasts to heal my wounds, I'm heading northbound. Long story short, I end up staying at an inn with possessed furniture and tenants conducting black magic rituals. One star, do not stay at The Gibbet Tree.

Onwards, I'm at some kind of carnival, checking out the freaks when I come across a 'snake-woman'. Before I get a chance to decide how to react, the book sums it for me.

It's the tongue. Very few human women have a forked tongue.
Later that night we get into a fight after she wraps herself around me, and not in that way. After a day spent playing XCOM 2 and having my soldiers constantly getting constricted by vipers, it's enough to add PTSD to my lycanthropy.

Holy shit, do not google 'XCOM 2 vipers'.
And yeah, close-up she's definitely unnatural.

Windows 10's built-in editing tools has a 'burlesque' filter, but it doesn't do much for the 'unnatural' snake-woman. Again, do NOT google 'XCOM 2 vipers'.
But I win, take my prize of a silver dagger, and flee. Ironically enough, on presenting this silver dagger as an offer of peace to a group of angry she-wolf ladies later in the book is what leads to my ultimate death in battle.


I'm not sure what to make of this book. Off the top of my head, it's the last one that was published before the long-awaited return of O.G. Ian Livingstone with Blood of the Zombies, it's a massive 500-something pages and every paragraph is longer than an episode of Game of Thrones.

Despite this, it didn't take me long to make it to Lupravia, where the final boss is supposedly located, and some of the encounters in-between contracting a clichéd race-against-time disease and the endgame were woefully clichéd. I literally stumbled into the creation of Frankenstein's monster, not to re-mention the 'three little pigs' encounter. Bit of a scattershot, everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach. Maybe I just went the wrong way?


In better news, my 8yo son - who wasn't even alive when I started this blog - was intrigued enough by what I was doing with a book and dice, that he asked if he could have a go. So I gave him the FF gamebook with the cover no eight-year-old kid could ever resist.

More people would read The Bible if this was the cover.
He proceeded to cheat his way through it and still die a "fiery death", which he thought was awesome.

Tuesday 15 August 2017


Thursday 23 March 2017


I made a dumb new thing called GamebookBot400.

It makes up random names for gamebooks. Mostly FF in style, but with some curveballs thrown in there. If you're luck score is high, maybe you'll see some funny ones.

Find it on Twitter here: @GamebookBot400.

Saturday 18 March 2017

Tin Man Games: Slaves of Rema

Hi! Long time no... see? Blog? Write?

How are you? I'm living in a hotel because my real house got flooded, and since a) I don't have my music gear here and b) it's strangely depressing having people randomly show up at your 'home' and  to make your bed while you sit there playing XCOM 2 and try your best to pretend not to be a slob, I've decided - at least for tonight - to seek refuge in a fantasy world where I'll probably die an awful, humiliating and painful death. For fun.

Slaves of Rema! It's one of the Tin Man range of gamebooks. Going by the splash screen (cover?), it's some kind of Gladiator-themed romp through Classical Rome, but with lizards big enough for Obi-Wan to ride.

"Millions of voices suddenly cried out, 'Weeeee!'"
So, I'm a dude still living at home with his elderly parents and three sisters (so, a Millennial). I'm apparently pro-slavery (okay, definitely a Trump voter), so it shouldn't come as any surprise when one day my platoon is ambushed by some slavers and made to walk a mile in slave shoes. Sad!

I'm quickly enlisted to fight in the gladiatorial arena, assigned to the Red team. Our opponents are the Blues, which I guess makes this some kind of analogy for the Bloods and Crips? I might be reading too much into this. Are Bloods and Crips still a thing? Or is it Democrips and Rebloodicans?

Gang handshakes are getting a bit odd

After easily bringing my first opponent (the 'desert-man', 'cause desert men need only hyphens, not names) to the brink of death, I do as the Emperor - sorry, the Princeps - asks, and decapitate him.

This apparently makes me sick, 'cause while I'm all for lifetimes spent in bondage and torture, a quick and painless end to the misery of eternal servitude is apparently a step too far (Rebloodicans clearly the right choice).

This act however is sufficiently despicable enough to attract the attention of a gang of other slaves - not sure if East or West Coast - who want out. I'm offered my choice of role in the elaborate escape plot. I choose to be on weapons duty, so if it all goes horribly wrong at least I'll have some way to put a cap in the ass of anyone in my way.

Not all of it goes to plan - for the others. I, on the other hand, somehow end up with a sapphire which I use to blag my way into first class on a boat home. Gangsta.

Then pirates attack, and I'm dead. Which sucks, 'cause before getting on that boat I totally bought a Monkey Skull, assuming an item so specifically useless would save me when I most needed it.

Kali maaaaaaaa!
At least, it would if this was a collect-all-the-weird-shit Ian Livingstone book. But it's not.


Anyway... I've got this app with all the Lone Wolf books on it. I never read those as a kid. Worth doing? Or is it time to run through Sorcery, the apps?

PS. Between the last entry and now, I played the Tin Man version of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain a thousand times, so that's probably off the table...

Saturday 18 July 2015

Tin Man Games: Siege of the Necromancer

I'm told this book is hard.

Siege of the Necromancer begins with a classic FF trope - a bad dude has amassed an army, and someone has to kill him. You. Even if you've spent the last year working in a coal mine instead of practising how to kill necromancers backed by an army of 'goblyns' (don't tell me Peter Jackson has trademarked the conventional spelling...).

*adopts first-person perspective*

Aforementioned necromancer Erid Buul has taken control of my home town, and my investigation begins badly when goblyns kill two of my travelling companions and horse, leaving me wearing nothing but a backpack and a leather jerkin. Luckily, my lack of pants doesn't appear to be an issue - it's certainly never mentioned again. I guess the shocking sight of a pants-less coal miner must make up for the lack of defence in those nether regions.

My remaining companions, sans character shields, are quickly dispatched, but not before one of them gives me a badass battleaxe, which makes short work of an 'ogryn' and two more gobs.

Sneaking through the city, I eventually chance upon a dying redshirt lying in a boat who gives me a MacGuffin. To thank this kind stranger, I dump his body in the ocean and use his boat as a shield to escape being arrowed in the same way.

Ow! My dignity!
Following his instructions, I'm soon in a cave faced with four doors. Having had a glass of wine already (IRL - there's a disappointing lack of drinking in this gamebook, but that's understandable given the circumstances. I guess. *sad face*) I decide to keep things simple and just take door #1. There'll be time to check doors two through four later, right? 
In there is an alcove, which I can't resist checking out because to do so I have to turn to page 400 - no true FF fan can resist the option of turning to page 400.

The book could read, 'Would you like to dip your leg in oil and stick it in the fire?' and I'd do it if it meant turning to page 400 (not IRL - depends how good the book is, I suppose). 

So one thing leads to another, and I'm soon hanging from a stalactite fighting some kind of shrieking bird thing which is definitely the worst result from a page 400 I've ever had. But I also find another dead guy with a MacGuffin similar to the other one, giving me confidence I'm right in calling these things MacGuffins and also that I'm on the right track. 

The MacGuffins are rubies. I'm guessing they're important. You can have more than one, right? It's also a clue Siege of the Necromancer might be a gamebook in the Ian Livingstone fetch-quest mould.

With that in mind, when I soon came across a badass sword (did I mention I lost the badass battleaxe? Dropped it in the ocean. There's going to be some very confused sea anemones in that town), I had to have it. When I picked it up, it triggered a trap and I was shot by an arrow - figuring that was it, I decided to take it anyway. That wasn't it. 

To death!
I note this book gives you six 'bookmarks', whereas An Assassin in Orlandes gave you three. I wonder why?

If you want to try it out for yourself, check out the Gamebook Adventures website.

Saturday 20 June 2015

Tin Man Games: An Assassin in Orlandes

Fighting Dantasy is making a flying jump into the 2010s - hopefully successfully testing my skill in the process - and taking on one of the Tin Man Gamebook Adventures series.

But it's not a book - it's on a tablet! Aaeerreeerrgghhh!

Taking advantage of the vast amount of supercomputing power Samsung's able to fit in 7 inches of plastic, rare earth metals and patents ripped from Apple, the GA series takes ye olde FF template and multiplies it - but it's not quite Moore's Law in action. Instead of 12+2D6 for stamina, you get 24+4D6. And it's called vitality, but you and I both know what it really is.

The ever-diminishing luck mechanic is replaced by fitness, and fighting is split into offence - based on dice rolls - and defence, based on what you're wearing.

The rules also suggest it's possible to have companions who fight with you - rolling all those dice would have been a nightmare in 1988; I can only hope the Galaxy Note enjoys being shaken.

On starting An Assassin in Orlandes, I'm prompted to play Classic style, or Casual - if you've read any previous Fighting Dantasy blog entries, I don't need to tell you which I chose. It's basically the difference between using a three-finger bookmark - which is still cheating, really - and ignoring all the rules whatsoever. But in the words of Ian Livingstone: "Let's face it, most of us cheated when we read Fighting Fantasy books."

Yep. The guy who wrote the book(s) told me even he cheats.

Anyway, taking advantage of the tablet form, I get to name my character! Um... Let's go with 'Kane'. (I'm watching the fifth ODI between England and New Zealand in a couple of hours, so let's assume the experience Kane has Orlandes tonight is an omen of how his namesake bats this evening...)

After rolling some stats more akin to Chris Martin's batting than Kane Williamson's, I'm off!

The first page reads, "Today has probably been the worst day of your life..." Five minutes into the book, I'm face-to-face with a cannibal. In a sewer.

He tells me I'm his next meal, and I am. The text goes into excruciating detail - Hannibal smashes my ribcage and eats my intestines. That would never have gone to print in 1988. The Tin Man GA series is obviously aimed at the same readers as FF - only aged as they are now.

The good news is I got an achievement! 'Off the Beaten Path: Find Medius the Cannibal'. That's not an achievement...

Thursday 9 October 2014

Round 2: Temple of Terror

It's been six years since I read Temple of Terror, and in that time I've obviously gotten worse at gamebooking, as you'll soon find out.

Also since then there's been a little TV show come out called Game of Thrones, which I doubt a single person reading this blog hasn't watched - or read.

I bring it up 'cause the intro blurb to Temple of Terror is frighteningly familiar to anyone whose imagination has visited Westeros; an evil man who wants to rule the land, vast deserts, controlling wolves and dragons, large armies... okay, so typical fantasy tropes. But hey, it's good SEO for me to mention Game of Thrones, right? Game of Thrones.

Anyway, so this Joffrey-Mother of Dragons-Bran Stark mashup guy called Malbordus is planning to get his dragon army together by collecting some artefacts, 'cause he went to the Ian Livingstone school of badassery. You - I - have to stop him by getting the artefacts first, and save the world - to get you started, ol' stingy Yaztromo gives you a measly four spells and 25 gold pieces.

He knows Malbordus' evil plot 'cause his crow overheard it (if only it was a raven...).

Now there are two ways you can go - through Blacksand, or across the desert. Last time I went via Blacksand, and this time did neither - I jumped on board a giant eagle, was attacked by a pterodactyl and sent plummeting to the ground, and my incredibly early doom. Sorry about that, world.

I actually spent more time getting my USB keyboard to work with this ancient and busted laptop than I did reading Temple of Terror.

Saturday 27 September 2014

Round 2: Freeway Fighter

Freeway Fighter is set in the future - 2022, to be exact - and since we're now closer to that than the book's native 1985, I thought I'd get in theme and play it in a manner that would have blown 1985 Ian Livingstone's mind.

Laptop for blogging, external keyboard 'cause the laptop's keyboard is fucking tiny, phone with a dice app 'cause there's a baby in the house who might eat the real thing, an iPad as the adventure sheet 'cause again, babies and pencils don't mix. Oh, and a copy of Freeway Fighter - on the original vinyl.

Because I had to use Internet Explorer for reasons I won't go into there, it took more time to take, upload and insert this photo than it did to read the damn book
The premise of Freeway Fighter, as I explained on my first attempt, is pretty much Mad Max. In the six years or so since then however I've read the better part of Stephen King's output, and now know it also owes a significant debt to The Stand. The introduction is very much a three-page TL;DR of the first 400 pages of the The Stand, if you ignore the bizarre line about the "soccer finals of the World Cup" featuring England and the US, which commits crimes offensive to both sports fanatics and professional subeditors, like me.

Anyway, my mission is to travel to another outpost of what remains of civilisation to collect 10,000 litres of petrol. This brings hope - people post-apocalyptic still use the metric system - and despair - my starting inventory does not extend to 20c a litre supermarket discount vouchers.

Last time my strategy was to just drive as fast as I could, and that ended in failure when I ran out of petrol. This time, I'm gonna hang out with people - except those fuckers at Joe's Garage who got me in the distant past of 2008.

So, hitting the highway I dispatch the first car no probs, then hang a left at the fork. The bridge is out, so I rev the car as hard as I can and... fail. I plummet to the ground and die.

Stupid dice app gave me a skill of seven, you see. Maybe I should have rolled it old-school...

Friday 26 July 2013

Round 2: House of Hell

The instructions to this example of Steve Jackson sadism are headed 'HOW TO SURVIVE THE HOUSE OF HELL'. To mangle a phrase from a popular movie that came out the year before, the only surviving move is not to play.

I wrote this phrase before giving House of Hell a second go, in anticipation I would fail. I planned to close with it, but the fact I wrote it before playing about sums up this book's reputation.

So I didn't bother playing it.

At least until the site hosting this image went bankrupt and closed.

Ha, just kidding. Of course I played it. But first, let me update the introduction to this particular tale to the two-thousand-and-teens (do we have a proper name for this decade yet?).

The rain spatters the windscreen relentlessly. You can see no more than a watery gloom as you strain forwards over the steering wheel to see the road ahead. Although the wipers flap valiantly, they are fighting a losing battle as the rain drives harder and harder. If only you'd take the car salesman's advice and shelled out for the hydrophobic windscreen coating. Your foot eases off the accelerator; the headlights struggle to light up the road. That's the last time you pay the mechanic in bitcoins.

Damn! You curse Apple Maps for sending you off along this bumpy track. Probably they meant the second turning on the left - or even a right turning. The old fool. Why didn't you just use Google?

But what nonsense is this? So you've taken a wrong turn and got caught in a downpour in the night. The rain will ease off soon - it can't possibly keep up this deluge for long. Unless that's how climate change works? You're not sure, so decide to ask Siri. Siri, does climate... WATCH OUT!

You spin the wheel frantically to the left to avoid the figure who, from nowhere, shows up in the headlights. The car bumps and jolts -but pleasantly so, thanks to advances in hydraulics and engineering - as it bounces over the rocky roadside and thumps into a ditch.

You are unhurt, but shaken. Then you remember what has happened. The body! You must have hit the figure which appeared - there was no way you could have avoided him, another victim of texting-while-jaywalking.

You spring out of the car, praying he is still alive and that he hasn't put a dent in your Prius. Your clothes soak up the rain as you hobble back to the road. It's hard to see at the best of times when you're wearing Google Glass, but in the darkness it is difficult to see anything. But there is no sign of a body!

You consider the situation. Are you certain that it was someone, and not the work of Weta Workshop or Industrial Light & Magic? Yes. You can remember the arms held up in fright as the car collided, and the look of anguish on his face. There was something familiar about that face. An old man, with white hair, a robe, pointy hat, said something about you not passing...

Your heart leaps: no, impossible! With a shiver of fear you race back into the car, jump inside, force the key into the ignition and twist if violently! Unfortunately the battery is dead. Your car is not budging from the ditch tonight.

Your situation is hopeless. How can you ask your Facebook friends for help? As if in answer, a light appears in the distance. Someone has switched on a 56-inch HDTV in a house nearby! What a stroke of luck! The new seasons of Game of Thrones premieres tonight, you thought you were going to miss it, for sure. 

You slam the door, take a quick Instagram of the car to upload when you're back in cellphone range and set off for the house. A flash of lightning lights it up clearly for you but, in your preoccupation with Angry Birds: Star Wars, the warning from above is wasted on you. The house is old and in a shocking state of repair. The satellite dish on the roof doesn't even appear to be plugged in.

As you climb the steps to the front door, little do you realise what fate has in store for you - they only have dial-up internet.

So, where did I go so wrong last time? Ah, the white wine. Won't drink it this time. Red it is! Now I have to choose between lamb and duck... sticking with red, I eat the lamb. The Earl of Drumer (I know an anagram when I see one...) tells me about his family, then offers me cheese, coffee and brandy... I pass on the brandy, and all seems good.

But it's not, of course. I pass out, wake in a room with my feet bound - but not my hands. It seems Mr Murder isn't as clever as he is creepy.

I escape, run down a random hall - I can't use my previous go at the book as a guide not what to do, 'cause it's already going better, I guess.

Came across a door with the word 'Azazel' written on it. Now, pretending it's 2013 again, Wikipedia suggests I don't want to open that door.

"What do you mean, 'House of Hell? This isn't a goat, it's a... okay, you got me, this is a 'House of Hell."

The next door has the name Erasmus on it, which sounds far more hospitable. Of course, it's locked. 

"Dear diary. Azazel was a total dick today, wandering the halls half-naked, and don't get me started on that stinking pet of his..."

Moving on, I'm soon hit on by some hot angel lady who, in an exquisite piece of plot exposition, tells me Mr Murder is in fact intent on murdering me -shock! horror! - in some kind of Satanic ritual. I need to find the 'Kris knife' in order to defeat him, but before she can tell me where it is that is in this house and not southeast Asia, she's conveniently finished off by a pair of ghost dogs. 

The next door I try is labelled 'Mephisto'. In it, there's "nothing unusual" but in a fashion more associated with Ian Livingstone than Jackson, there's also a piece of frayed, knotted rope. I take it, in case Steve Jackson's idea of hell includes tug-of-war.

A few rooms later - including a bait-and-switch Jackson pulls using the name of Balthus Dire and a close encounter with a vampire (not to mention the most useful kitchen in all of FF, containing not just garlic but a meat cleaver), I'm killed by repeated exposure to scary shit - the final straw being a ghoul. 

Just as well I did that painfully wrong rewrite of the intro, or this could have been again the shortest entry in Fighting Dantasy history.

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.