Thursday, 18 October 2012

Small Beginnings (DQ: Legion of Shadow Prologue & Curse of the Cornfields quest)

Humble beginnings dealing with farm pests - not
quite a peril to haunt the existence of the universe...
The Legion of Shadow starts with me wakening from a dream. Sadly this dream doesn't involve fluffy Bunny Rabbits who eat bankers that threaten to stop your overdraft. That is, for the record, a most delightful dream to have. This dream instead involves black-scaled monsters with sharp fangs trying to do unspeakable things to me. I lie on a soggy ground, with rain and mud in abundance around me. Charred, twisted corpses surround me. What the fuck happened in that pub last night, anyway?!?! I feel in pain, yet I am not bleeding, nor am I apparently injured in any way. I'm certainly not a charred corpse like my fellow inhabitants around me, that's for certain. Looking at my arm, I'm now sporting some flash purple mark branded into my skin. What makes this far better than any tattoo I've ever had in other playthroughs of Gamebooks is the fact that it has three diamond-bodied serpents intertwined in spirals and stuff. Neat! I hear a groaning sound and locate its source to be a small boy clad in plate armour. He would be fine, but on closer inspection it appears he took an arrow to the knee.. well, chest anyway. I ask the boy what happened, having not a Scooby Doo myself as to what the hell is going on here. Take me back to the fluffy bunnies, please!....

The boy informs me that brigands and thieves attacked our camp and gave me a clobbering on my head. Following that mild inconvenience, apparently some weird shit happened with the mark on my arm and magic  flowed from it, causing the mass charcoal pile that I'm standing in. I, of course, have no memory of what happened, or even who I am. Back to more pressing matters; this poor fellow is dying in front of me, the head assassin's arrow having found its mark. As is always the case in such adventures involving mass burned bodies and a loss of memory, this head assassin is seemingly the only survivor from the 'bad guys'. Then again, who is to say I'm not the bad guy here? I did apparently murder hundreds of men with a flick of my purple arm! The boy goes on to use his dying breaths to inform me that he'd only known me for a day; we'd met on the way to Tithebury Cross, wherever that may be. This boy (Let's call him Pike, shall we?) tells me that he was due to apprentice with the great Avian Dale, who is apparently highly important, if only I could remember! I swear, this is the last time I drink that shiny blue stuff... Pike tells me to fetch his backpack quickly, as Harpies are moving in for the kill. In this pack is Pike's letter granting him access to Avian Dale's academy. As Pike draws his final breath, I vow to assassinate the assassin who assassinated him (try saying that 5 times really quickly late at night!) I also take his sword, The apprentice (main hand: sword +1 brawn). I will explain what the brawn statistic means as the time arises, but note that I can only have one main hand item equipped at any one time. Should I equip another, my current one is deemed to have been destroyed. Equip-able areas of my person are a Cloak, Head, Gloves, Main Hand, Chest, Left Hand, Talisman, Feet, Necklace and two Rings slots. This customizability is one of the main strengths of DQ; you can truly make your character unique compared to everybody else's. Leaving Pike to presumably rot and be eaten by Harpies, I make my way to Tithebury Cross.

Excuse the giant sun-flare on the right-hand side of the map.
Tithebury Cross does not really have a giant white spot near the mountains!
 The above is the layout of Tithebury Cross and so I should probably explain how the actual adventuring in DQ goes. Each number on the map represents the start of a quest, legendary monster hunt, boss battle or tavern. Green swords represent the easiest of quests, with Orange being slightly harder, Blue harder still and Red ones representing quests only the brave should undertake. Spider-like things represent Legendary Monsters, Skulls represent the Boss (i.e final quest) of the Act and taverns represent... err, taverns! While not every quest and monster must be conquered in order to proceed, for the purposes of this playthrough I will be attempting each and every one. I'm going to go about this methodically; starting with the easiest quests at the top of the map and work my way down until all the green ones are done and so forth. The hero sheet requires me to give myself a name, so I must confess to going all nostalgic and giving my hero the name that I have always thought to be simply the coolest, most badass name in all of fantasy. Balthus Dire it is! For my first trick, I shall attempt to rid Tithebury of the Curse of the Cornfields...

I haven't got the key for your brand
new Combine Harvester, honest!
Balthus Dire is having a pleasant stroll through some fields when some crazy old farmer comes charging at me waving his pitchfork about. Apparently his farm is cursed and like a good old superstitious type, he's blaming a witch. A strange mist lingers over the land, a mist which the farmer insists is not the cause of his cows. A mystery, then. The farmer tells me that in this mist he has seen more terrifying shapes move about than you'll find in a tub of Moshi Monsters Pasta for kids. Why is the witch to blame, I hear you ask? Oh, you weren't asking. Well, I'll tell you anyway! The farmer's wife got all bitchy with the witch, accusing her of not looking after the farmers crops properly. This has seemingly caused the witch to put a curse on the land, blighting all crops and the like. I tell you, women arguing ALWAYS ends badly. I agree to help the poor sod; after all, the quest isn't going anywhere if I don't! I trundle off into the mist, with only The apprentice to aid me against the monsters lurking within. Eerily, every time I think I see something move in the mist, the wind howls and the mist swirls, forcing me to believe that what I saw was just a figment of my imagination. For a basic quest, this kind of suspense-building atmosphere is nice. Before I can appreciate the aesthetics of the writing too much, a murderous Scarecrow emerges from the mist and decides I look like a crow. Gulp. Now would also be a good time to explain the combat mechanics of DQ...

Crow's Feet; Never leave home without them!
There are 4 key attributes to combat: Speed, Magic/Brawn, Armour (thank god this is an English production, I couldn't cope with seeing "Armor" everywhere) and last but perhaps most crucially, Health. Each combat round starts with the combatants rolling for their attack speed, which is usually 2D6 + their speed attribute. The highest wins the combat round, then rolls a single D6 adding the total to their Brawn score. The defendant's Armour score is then subtracted from that, leaving the final total to be deducted from their health score. A new combat round begins and the fight continues until somebody is very dead. Of course, the cavern-sized list of treasure one can acquire throughout DQ offers many items with combat modifiers, but I'll explain them as and when it is necessary. The good thing about DQ is that the combat scales in difficulty as you get through the book and get more powerful, something FF never did quite manage to perfection! Anyway, I start with 30 Health, an attribute that will refill to the maximum after every fight. My speed, armour and brawn all start at 0, although thanks to The apprentice my brawn now sits at 1. To cut a long story short, the Scarecrow ends up as little more than chopped straw, leaving me to escape with my dignity and pride intact. A necklace made of human bones around the bugger's neck appears to be what bought the thing life, so with one quick slash I remove it. I can now claim a reward for my victory from two items, with the one I plump for being Crow's feet (Feet: +1 Speed, + 1 Magic). After adorning myself with the bizarre item drop from our angry straw friend, I follow a green flickering light ahead, as that is what any self-respecting adventurer would do! Following the green mist road, I soon find a funky totem that is quite obviously out of place. The gleeful destructive side of me concludes that smashing it to pieces will be a most useful exercise, so The apprentice in hand I stride forth to kick totem ass.

Ahh, anyone remember this little gem of a game?
Tanks would have been far more effective
than my sword in destroying the evil totem too.
Unfortunately for me, I get winded by the mist punching me in the stomach. (See what I did there? I've been off a while, give me a break on the witticisms!) This Mist Stalker is a disturbing guardian, complete with 'green eyes glowing with a malevolent hunger'. My magic Crow's feet allow me to give this stalker a severe restraining order before I return to my favourite pastime of destroying evil totems. Slicing it neatly down the middle in a way that would impress on MasterChef, relief hits me as the mist and dodgy green light effects vanish almost instantly, leaving me standing with the crazy old farmer who arrives and does a little Irish jig around me in happiness. I demand a reward for my efforts in saving his crops, and get for my reward... wait for it, wait for it, it's a cracking prize.... a GRIME-COATED KEY. Thank you so much, you useless peasant. Thus ends the tale of the Curse of the Cornfields. What a nice easy start to my quest it was too!

So, the journey. As you'll have noticed, this pint-sized quest could (and was) undertaken in a mere 20 minute period, so they make ideal for short, regular blog posts! As Destiny Quest is a load of mini-adventures, obviously I do not start at reference number 1.


Short, sweet and effective. I like it! Only two fights as well, which were as follows:

Scarecrow - Speed: 0 Brawn: 1 Armour: 0 Health: 8
Mist Stalker - Speed: 0 Brawn: 1 Armour: 0 Health: 10

To fill you in on where Balthus Dire stands at the end of each quest, I've decided to include a short character summary;

Main hand - The apprentice (Sword, +1 brawn)
Feet - Crow's feet (Feet, +1 speed, +1 magic)
Backpack - Grime-coated key
Money Pouch - 10 Gold Crowns

Speed - 1
Brawn - 1
Magic - 1
Armour - 0
Health - 30

Ok, time to cross series and use a tried and tested feature, time for...


Illustrations: There are the colour panels in the middle of the book which are very nice, including the maps of each act/homeworld which you've seen the first of earlier. Apart from that, the one sad omission in my eyes is that of any black and white illustrations throughout the remainder of the book. Even if it was only for all the Legendary Monster quests, as illustrations of those would be welcomed with open arms. Without any illustrations this section of my analysis will obviously not feature when it comes to DQ titles sadly. N/A.

Monsters/other NPC encounters: The farmer, the Scarecrow and the Mist Stalker. That's all there is for this tale, but it's all you need for a minimalistic quest such as this. Think of it as a more sinister version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The Mist Stalker is an interesting fellow, and for a first quest I am satisfied with the ensemble I encountered. 6/10.

Storyline/Plot: I believe this quest is part of an ongoing storyline with the Witch, something which should play out nicely as I get through the quests in Act 1. It is a fairly generic plot for the quest (Farmer has trouble with crops, needs adventurer to save his means of living) but the atmosphere with the mist and evil glowing green light saves it from being boring. 6/10.

Difficulty: Nice and easy. Not much more to say really! 1/10.

Seal of Approval?: Obviously this doesn't have to be the first quest you undertake from the book, but as my first quest I must say that it serves as a nice introduction to fighting and the aspect of equipping an item to your character. In that respect, it does very well in what I assume is intended to be an introductory quest in many ways. It is, of course, no classic, so no fluffy Seal here. An honourable mention though.

The award for a well-done if generic adventure.

A good start to my Destiny Quest adventure then. I'll round this up nice and quickly with a brief moral completely unrelated to anything you've read above:

Be yourself; everyone else is taken. Thanks for that one Oscar.


May Your Stamina Never Fail...

I sort out an altercation involving turnips and progress no further to stopping the Legion of Shadow...

Return of the Blogger

Good day to you all. It's been a while, hasn't it? A dodgy internet connection at University coupled with an onslaught of work in the early weeks caused me to take an early winter hibernation, but with a break this week I unleash upon you all the beginning of Destiny Quest: The Legion of Shadow, which frustratingly had been virtually finished an entire month ago. Sad times. Hopefully I will be able to do an update at least once every 2 weeks now that I've got my head in gear, but we shall see. Should I continue to fail you with updates once again, hop along to Marsten's Blog of Wonders, where I have been put to shame by regular updates despite an exploding computer. Not to mention a reminiscing about Knightmare, which was a frankly awesome TV show. Anyway, enough of this, get reading my next post, it's the one with action in it!  

A dancing Crocodile. Because I can.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

You Plonker!

At least I'm not a member of the Groovy Gang!
I have a confession to make. I am an idiot, a fool, a twit, a plonker, a dunce or whichever synonym you care to use. Having signed up for the Beta testing for the Ipod app of Blood of the Zombies as made by the lovely people at Tin Man Games, I received an email from Neil Rennison aka the Tin Man himself telling me that I was awesome and granting me a commission to write a Gamebook Adventure. Ok, maybe that was merely a dream...
What he did send me though was an email sent to all Beta testing applicants with an NDA (That's Non-Disclosure Agreement) for us to sign and return basically stating that we were aware that all work we were testing was property of Tin Man Games and we would not plagerise or otherwise rip off any of the work we were testing, or steal any of Neil's Triple Chocolate Cookies. I duly signed it and attached the signed copy in an email reply and sent it off...

Or, to be more precise, I thought I had. Upon receiving a further email from Neil this morning confirming the time had expired to send back the NDA's, I noticed something truly horrible in the corner of my eye! Having deleted the email from my Uncle Fester I also noticed the number 1 in brackets by my Drafts folder. Bugger. My fears were confirmed when I opened the folder. I may have filled out the NDA but I had never actually sent the email back. This was disappointing. Lessons will be learnt and I will hopefully get the chance for a later production; maybe the House of Hell app. For now though, I merely hang my head in shame and think that I probably deserve that stupid Tattoo on my forehead I got recently on my trip to Port Blacksand. A fairly obvious moral here;
Always check that you have done something you think you have, do not merely assume it has been done.
With that I'm off to hopefully use more sense in my adventures through DestinyQuest; I'll return soon folks!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

An important announcement that reveals all!

The time has come.
I'll keep this brief. I've been itching to get this started for a while and so it gives me great pleasure to announce that a new gamebook series will join the ranks of May Your Stamina Never Fail! In case the giant picture on the right does not give it away, this series is the Destiny Quest book, (Soon to be books!) The Legion of Shadow. Quite frankly, it's awesome. Think of Fighting Fantasy mixed with World of Warcraft, with a bit of old-school platforming in the vein of the classic Spyro the Dragon series. I say platforming for the reason this book is split into three acts (Home Worlds) with each one having various quests (Levels) and also a boss battle (As is) and various Legendary Monsters (Mini-bosses). It is not compulsory to complete every quest to finish this book, but fear not; I shall be attempting every quest and legendary monster going on my playthrough. The great thing about DQ is that when/if you die, you do not have to start the entire book from the beginning. Thank God for that by the way; this book is bigger than a person who eats McDonald's their entire life! You instead go back to the aforementioned "home world" and lose any items you picked up on the quest you happened to be on. That's a neat way of doing things, although it must be noted that the early quests are so short that you can breeze through them without too much trouble anyway. In Destiny Quest you can pick up items/armour/weapons to equip your character with that give bonuses to his/her stats and also grant them special skills. I won't bother listing them all here for there are far too many; check out the official Destiny Quest website for more, although I do plan on doing a post listing them all for convenience sake in the near future.

My method of doing a post for an entire gamebook will be torn to shreds for this series. Instead, posts will (probably) be shorter, each one focusing on a single quest, plus any visits to Taverns for healing/item purchasing between. I will still analyse my adventure as usual, with my journey through the quest laid out and ratings for each aspect of the book still present. (Barring Illustrations - more on that come the first quest playthrough) I thought about changing the title of that feature to 'How much Destiny was in this Quest?' instead of 'How much fight was in this fantasy?' although that seems:

A) Too cheesy.
B) I feel continuity is important to this blog and keeping my features with the same name feels right.

If anyone has any opinions on that matter please let me know, this is for your sake as much as mine! That especially applies to Michael J. Ward should he read this. If he does, firstly Hi, thanks for taking the time out to read my blog. Secondly, thanks for writing an awesome book and continuing the series with The Heart of Fire and hopefully many more to come. Thirdly, do you have any objections to me using a specifically FF-style name for a feature when analysing your gamebook? I should have mentioned; Michael J. Ward is the author of this little gem. I learnt yesterday that the greatest reward of writing a gamebook playthrough/review blog is getting the author of the work themselves to read the post after Ian Livingstone himself read my City of Thieves playthrough. I am unashamed to admit I am still floating around somewhere up on Cloud 9. Having already played through Act 1 of The Legion of Shadow in the few days after I got the hardback edition on release day, I can say that the first few quests should be easy to me and that therefore there should be a quick-ish stream of content coming this way soon. Seeing how this blog has evolved into much more than merely a Fighting Fantasy playthrough blog (It will remain primarily so though!) I have decided to remove the FF logo from the right hand side of the page. I've babbled on way too much now, so I'll cut to the moral:

Everybody in the world has the chance to do extraordinary things. All they have to do is be brave enough to take a leap and seize their chance with both hands. Don't wait for that chance to come to you; take that leap and find it for yourself.


May Your Stamina Never Fail...

The quest to stop the Legion of Shadow commences...

Monday, 27 August 2012

Birthdays and Bathdays (City of Thieves playthrough coinciding with the 30th Anniversary of Fighting Fantasy!)

Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday Fighting Fantasy (and me!) happy birthday to you!

My, is that a dagger in your hand
or are you just happy to see me?
Port Blacksand. The very name strikes fear into any honest person. Port Blacksand is, after all, a city of thieves, vagabonds and all sort of unsavoury characters. It is, then, based upon the very real city of Liverpool. In all seriousness, it is not a nice place to find oneself in. My journey to this godforsaken place is not without good reason though, as I shall explain shortly. City of Thieves is one of the books I remember really enjoying when I was younger; I seem to recall a great deal of exploration within the City itself. It is #5 in both the original Puffin series and Wizard series 1, whilst being #6 in the second Wizard series. I will be using my copy labelled #6 for this playthrough, for the simple reason that I love the slightly bigger illustrations throughout. As I type this I realise this is yet another Ian Livingstone book; perhaps I ought to give Steve Jackson's books a go soon. Although, thinking about it, his were usually plot heavy and rather intricate whilst also being very challenging. Decisions decisions. Ian McCaig does the interior illustrations for this one, also doing the original Puffin cover,  an occurrence I am not aware of happening in any other FF book. (Cue the throngs of people correcting me) Martin McKenna, as he did with so many of them, drew the revamped Wizard cover, which is the one on your right. The rules are fairly standard; no extra attributes, you start with 10 provisions and ONE swig of a potion of either Skill, Stamina or Fortune.

Every journey starts with a name. A person. This person is Robin Turpin, an infamous thief who robs from the rich and sometimes gives his spoils to the poor. Robin is trekking about looking for an adventure of some sort to flex his thieving might with when he stumbles across the reasonably wealthy town of Silverton. The people seem nervous about something though and the iron grates over windows suggest that something is up. Deciding to investigate, I promptly find myself in The Old Toad. This is not a nickname for a local prostitute but rather more pleasingly a local Tavern. Robin's appearance causes quite a stir too; there are whisperings afoot as I make my way to the bar to inquire about a room for the night. Curiously before taking my money the innkeeper proceeds to iron bolt the door to his inn shut. Apparently nightfall in Silverton brings all sorts of terror; maybe The Old Toad is a murderous prostitute! Suddenly a thunderous knocking on the door of the inn sounds, with a voice shouting 'Open up! Open up!' Fearing for the survival of my lower regions, I am quite relieved to find the voice belongs to Owen Carralif, mayor of Silverton. It appears old Owen has put his town in a spot of bother; Night Prince not-so-charming, Zanbar Bone sent a request that Owen's daughter, Mirelle, go "stay" with him. Like any self-respecting father would, Owen rejects the Undead Prince's request. Every night since, Zanbar has sent his bloodthirsty Moon Dogs to kill anyone and everyone within Silverton. With rumours circulating of the people handing Mirelle over to Zanbar to stave off any further bloodshed, poor Owen is on the brink of collapse. To that end, he hands me 30 gold pieces, tells me to get a move on to Port Blacksand, find there a Wizard by the name of Nicodemus, a man powerful enough to slay Zanbar Bone single-handed. So, Robin Turpin has a quest. Guess I better get a move on then...

Far more intimidating than a Police helmet
I guess.
Robin Turpin is blessed with stat scores of Skill 12, Stamina 20 and Luck 8. I'll be taking that Potion of Fortune then! Arriving at a decidedly-grim looking Port Blacksand, I am greeted by the charming face on your left. Looking back in hindsight, asking the fellow to be taken to Nicodemus was not my smartest move I've ever made. I end up being escorted to a jail cell. Bugger. A strange old man in the cell next door offers to somehow free me for 10 gold pieces. I know you should never look a gift horse in the mouth, but if he can free me how come he is still a prisoner himself? Ignoring the old man, I pretend to have the plague, escaping the cell by making the guards all flee in terror. Picking up a couple of gold pieces and a Merchant's pass to trade freely within the city. I am then faced with a choice of three streets to take a stroll down; Key Street, Market Street or Clock Street. I choose the former, for the bare bones logic reasoning that a Key will be more useful to me in completing my quest than a clock. I enter a locksmith belonging to a J.B Wraggins. A Skeleton key for 10 gold pieces sounds like a good deal, so I give Mr. Wraggins some of my precious gold and leave him to his intricate little job he has going for himself. Further down the street a scruffy boy hands me a piece of paper informing me that I'll be peppered with arrows should I walk further down the street without leaving 10 gold pieces behind. It is safe to assume that the threat is very real, owing to the dastardly nature of this place, so I reluctantly oblige, finding myself 20 gold pieces poorer in a mere matter of paragraphs. Ouch. The next building has a welcome sign outside, so I oblige. Inside is Robin Turpin's dream scenario; two Scorpion brooches are lying on a table. I greedily take them both and exit the house immediately. I'm given the option of going upstairs, but why risk it? The golden brooch gives me luck and the silver one will replenish a tiny bit of stamina after each fight. Both very handy finds!

The favourite pastime the world forgot.
This city is one potential fuck up after another. Shortly after leaving the brooch building some of the City Guard turn up asking to see my Merchant's pass, even though I'm not actually trying to sell anything. Crafty bastards. Fortunately, I produce the one I nicked earlier during my escape from the cell. Evidently my face is not yet recognised around Port Blacksand, as the guards seem suspicious but let me go on regardless anyway. Next up is some good old-fashioned fun in the marketplace. There's a crowd of people hurling eggs at this man in a pillory. Seizing upon the opportunity for a riot of a time (Pun most likely intended) I take some eggs off this old woman next to me and throw them right at the poor man's face. The sly crone steals a gold piece from my pocket while I do this, but you know what? I don't feel hard-done by; I enjoyed this activity and am happy to pay a bit for it! I ignore a man playing a lyre for the reason he is dressed in purple velvet. Never trust a man in purple velvet. I do, however, engage in a battle of ego's with a bare-chested man whose smug grin pissed me off. In this duel for 5 gold pieces we must hold a cannonball until one of us rolls a 1. He rolls a 1 on his very first roll of the die. It just proves that muscles aren't everything; Robin Turpin can best an egoistic strongman in a cannonball-holding contest, success! Using my prize I buy a lantern and a climbing rope, two of the most useful items in any FF player's arsenal. Well, I say that, but shortly after buying them I remembered I'm in an urban setting, not an open expanse or a cave/dungeon of some sort. Bugger. Rules are rules though, I bought them before remembering this and shall plough on regardless. I ignore the charms of a local clairvoyant as I've never been one to believe in people reading the future; I'm not about to start now. After a short while I come to a bridge adorned with skulls, some of which are not even human. My morbid love for the disgustingly unpleasant has me positively writhing in glee here. That's some quite wonderful juxtaposition there, I hope you'll all agree!

Nicodemus' body double.
I go beneath this bridge, admittedly because I remember that what lies beneath is Nicodemus himself. Ganda.. sorry, Nicodemus greets me and proceeds to give me one of the strangest item hunts ever devised. I need to get a white unicorn inside a yellow sun tattooed on my forehead for all to see, a silver arrow, black pearls, hag's hair and last but not least a lotus flower. Only equipped with all of these can I hope to slay Zanbar Bone. Oh dear. I've placed my faith in a man who is quite clearly loopy. Still, this is a book written by Ian Livingstone; Nicodemus must be right! Leaving Nicodemus, I decide to go down Candle street in the hope of finding a tattooist in one of its many buildings. The first building I enter has no tattooist but instead a very deadly gambling game. A man puts 6 pills in front of me, 5 are harmless yet one will kill me. If I swallow a harmless one, I win 20 gold pieces. If I die, the man gets to keep all my possessions. No shit, Sherlock. Still, Robin loves a risky gamble, so to hell with it. Rather satisfyingly, I survive. Now considerably richer, I feel I can do anything. Say, even play with some brown Goblin-esque creatures called Bays. They are playing Bays' Ball. It is at it sounds; by that I mean Robin Turpin is about to play Baseball. Hey, every hero needs a break! I turn out to be an ace at this and win my team the game. I am adorned with all sorts of gifts, ranging from a useful sounding potion of mind control to a piece of chalk. None of my shopping list for Nicodemus sadly though, but at least I know I could retire and become a professional Bays' Ball player should this quest go to pot. With nowhere left to go down Candle Street, I head for Harbour street, following it to the jetty it takes me to.

Warning: This may not be an entirely
accurate depiction of real events.
Arr! There's a pirate ship here! I sneak aboard using a rope ladder, avoiding the Pirate left on guard by the gangplank. Sneaking further down into the cargo hold, I hope that these Pirates will have one of my obscure items onboard. The first door I open reveals a trio of Pirates asleep on the job. Braving a luck roll and being exceedingly lucky at that (Double 1, I love you) I cut a pouch of one of them containing a small family of black pearls. ITEM GET! Going into the other door presented for my endless curiosity, I find a pirate sitting in a bathtub singing a very annoying and repetitive ditty. This happens to be the Pirate captain, fresh from an adventure involving Scientists. Despite his frankly awful singing, I offer to spare his miserable life in return for information on my unusual shopping list. He recommends a Silversmith to me for that arrow I need, but otherwise is about as much use as a porthole that is stuck open. Thus ends my venture onto the Pirate ship, without even needing to use that Eyepatch I have as part of a cunning disguise. That disappoints me. I also feel I should have engaged the Pirate captain in combat so I could inform him that he fights like a cow. On that note, I should move on before I get trapped forever in the Bermuda Triangle of Pirate references...

It's alright; he's actually quite tame.
Sorry about that. I got caught up in my love of all things Pirate-y, forgetting what the fuck it is I'm supposed to be doing here. Right, hunting down an evil Undead thingymajigy, got it! Before I leave Harbour Street, I am informed by some fishwives with "plump cheeks as round and shiny as red apples" that I am likely to find a Hag somewhere in the sewer system. Nice. I ignore a boy crying as I enter Clog Street; the chances of him having a Lotus flower on him are reasonably slim, after all. I also ignore a candle-maker. As nice as it would be to purchase a candle, I really have no need of one and cash is a little tight. Remember, I still have to pay for the world's most stupid tattoo to be smacked on my forehead yet! The next shop, however, is of the utmost importance. This shop belongs to Ben Borryman, Silversmith extraordinare. He takes 10 of my gold pieces in return for a Silver arrow. ITEM GET! Clog Street then comes to an end, leaving me with a seemingly random choice as to which street will hold one of my remaining precious items I seek. I choose Stable Street over Tower Street for no other reason other than the fact my coin landed on heads. This appears to be a good move; I come across a manhole leading to the sewers. I say good move... I mean this in a manner of speaking. Robin Turpin would far prefer to leave the sewers alone, but alas I trust the ramblings of the fishwives with apple cheeks. Unfortunately I do not find a Hag in the direction I head but a Giant Centipede who takes a slight distaste to my presence. He's (Well, I assume it's a he. Maybe I should be less sexually assuming when it comes to fantasy creatures) a considerably skillful menace, although Robin's too good for this fight, not even having to call on the aid of Batman. (I apologise.) Hey, that was my first fight in this entire adventure! That's mightily impressive and also annoying. Skill 12 and I've only just been called upon to use it. Upon disposing of said Centipede, I neglect to remove the grill behind it. Yes, I chicken out. I'm only human! Besides, look at the mandibles on that Centi; if it has a mate in that grill I have no chance! Heading in the other direction of the sewer system in search of my aunt the Hag I seek, I get myself into my second fight in as many minutes, this time with a posse of Rats. Killing them, I find that elusive Hag. She tries some evil sorcery on me but the Potion of Mind Control conveniently given to me for being the Bays' Ball champion prevents her from having her wicked way with me (Perish the thought!) I give her a makeshift haircut and promptly flee the Sewer system. ITEM GET!

A pair of shears and you'll be safe.
Tower Street now sounds rather appealing. However, it really isn't when I get there. A couple of men fighting in the street fails to interest me, nor does some people in a hurry with some sacks, as I highly doubt they will be shifting flowers around. Soon I come to a Stable. I think I'm still on Tower Street and not somehow teleported back to Stable Street, so allow myself a wry smile at the irony of this. Entering the Stables, I find a Blacksmith who offers to make me a fine chainmail coat for 20 gold pieces. I can afford this but my money might be better spent elsewhere, so I politely decline and leave one of the only honest men in the whole of Port Blacksand to his labours. What happens next is one of the best moments of rapid adapting to the situation I've ever done in an FF. A man comes up to me in ball and chain pleading to be freed. It appears he has been dodging taxes. Bizarrely though, the man is not a former politician. Freeing him, the City Guard suddenly arrive and point their pikes at me. Bugger. Realising that I'm not going to get away with freeing the man, I change tack and proclaim that I have captured this escaped prisoner for them. It turns out the sly bugger was lying to me; he's actually a murderer. Bastard. The Guards give me 5 gold pieces for my troubles and I go on my merry way. After a change of scenery, I pay the one gold piece entry fee into the public gardens, hoping to pilfer myself a Lotus Flower. Unfortunately the local topiary animals take offence to this action, attempting to eat me whole. I give them a quick pruning and escape with my flower intact. ITEM GET! Now all I need is the lame tattoo and I can move on to Zanbar Bone himself! I soon find the tattooist who will be tasked with removing all pride I may have ever had from my life. Jimmy Quicktint performs the task for a mere 10 gold pieces, although I feel it should be me getting paid here! With huge regret, I hand over the money and let him get to work. ITEM GET! Now fully equipped and fully twat-ified for the job, I leave, apparently noting that my "New appearance is somewhat strange". You don't say!

Sums up how I now feel.

On my way out of the city, I am approached by Sourbelly and Fatnose. No, these aren't the nicknames of the kids everybody hated at school. These are two Troll guards who decide to pick on me. I show them my merchant's pass so they don't arrest me and am instead offered to be thrown out of the city. Checking I have everything I need, I gleefully oblige to the idiots. On my way to the Night Prince's tower, I am greeted by a messenger bird sent by Nicodemus. Apparently he screwed up; only 2 of the ingredients mixed together will kill Zanbar, not all 3. He can't remember which two, so it's time for random luck to intervene. Trying to think logically, it seems that a Lotus flower is a reasonable candidate for one of the ingredients. My coin lands on tails this time, meaning that clump of Hag's hair forms the other one. Time to cross my fingers. Apparently my mashing up of flower and greasy hair has attracted a wandering creature, specifically an Orc. A mere Orc is no match for the refined swordplay of Robin Turpin though and I am soon on my way once more. The moment I approach the tower of Zanbar Bone, however, two of those dreaded Moon Dogs set upon me. Man, these guys are nasty. As killer hounds go, Moon Dogs are better skilled in combat then most assassins. This could prove a problem. Fortunately, the odds are in my favour and I survive with only even a few scratches! I now feel invincible. Better yet, my skeleton key I bought aeons ago unlocks the door at the base of the tower. Things improve further still when I get inside; taking a shield with a Unicorn on it (Fuck it, I have a Unicorn on my head already) I get a skill boost. Well, I will when/if I lose a skill point. My next option is to get in this bed in the next room and get some sleep. Ian, Ian. You may be a crafty so-and-so but do you really expect me to be so stupid as to fall asleep in this monstrous place?!?! I ignore the next couple of rooms on the way up; all evil people make their base at the top of their tower, don't they? The fourth floor appears to be my stop; Zanbar Bone starts calling out, claiming he can see my every move. Gulp.

The joys of paranoia when you know something is there.

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of.
Two doors greet me. One black, one white. I choose white. There's a sarcophagus present, complete with hostile Mummy inside. Finally, that seemingly useless lantern I bought earlier comes to use, barbecuing the Mummy and allowing me to claim it's treasure; The ring of the Golden Eye. Sounds awesome, doesn't it? Apparently it is; I can now see through illusions. An item so intricately named will be useful, you can be certain of that. Moving on to the black door, I find that it will come to use far quicker than I could have imagined. A black cat on the floor turns out to be merely an illusion; it is Zanbar Bone himself! Performing some quick self-dentistry, I am faced with three Skeletons that were once the Night Prince's teeth. Dealing with them, the time to show that Robin Turpin's lessons in archery in a certain hidden forest were well worthwhile has come. I have time for just the single shot to land my silver arrow in the heart of Zanbar. It lands right in the spot. Phew. Time to see whether Lotus Flower and Hag's Hair makes for a deadly concoction to Zanbar Bone. IT DOES! Dancing with glee as the Prince crumbles to dust, I skip back to Silverton full of considerable joy. This joy only increases when Owen Carralif presents me with a Gold Orb worth hundreds of gold pieces.

This is a very good moment. Success in a Fighting Fantasy book is extremely rare. To succeed in a second one as I have just done leaves me feeling all sorts of fantastical superlatives you normally only see in a children's book that involves Caterpillars of some sort. Suffice to say I'm happy. My rather long journey was as follows:


That was me visiting 122 paragraphs; well over 25% of the lot. That's quite an achievement in itself, I feel. It took me half of that before I even came across a single combat, but then they came reasonably steadily:

Giant Centipede - Skill: 10 Stamina: 5
First Rat - Skill: 4 Stamina: 4
Second Rat - Skill: 5 Stamina: 4
Third Rat - Skill: 5 Stamina: 5
Leaf Beasts - Skill: 6 Stamina: 6
Orc - Skill: 5 Stamina: 4
First Moon Dog - Skill: 9 Stamina: 10
Second Moon Dog - Skill: 11 Stamina: 9
First Skeleton - Skill: 6 Stamina: 7
Second Skeleton - Skill: 8 Stamina: 6
Third Skeleton - Skill: 7 Stamina: 7

The Giant Centipede was not necessary to reach the end of the book, yet all the others are. Looking at it, a warrior with weak initial stats would have a good chance. Well. They would, if only those pesky Moon Dogs weren't there. They, my friends, are horrible. It's time again for the analysis part. Get ready.


I've only just noticed the 3 ingredients in the
top left of this; a wonderfully detailed image.
Illustrations: Both the original Puffin cover (Which features Zanbar Bone in front of his tower) and the Wizard one at the top of this entry are evocative of pleasant memories of this book. I like the original cover but I feel the Wizard one sums up the whole 'City' part of the book far better. Both are detailed and nice covers though. The interior illustrations are simply fantastic; some of the best FF has seen. All highly detailed, they are a joy to look at. You've already seen a couple of them as I've broken my unwritten rule that interior illustrations do not feature during my playthrough. Indeed, the illustrations of Zanbar and the City Guard are two of my favourites. Sourbelly and Fatnose are also excellent, but I've plumped for Nicodemus as my featured illustration here. 10/10

Monsters/other NPC encounters: There are plenty of interesting characters in City of Thieves. Nicodemus may not be as interesting as Yaztromo but he works well as a grumpy wizard who is still good-natured deep down. Those of you with Dungeoneer or Blacksand! will have access to more fleshing out of Nicodemus too, adding to the grumpy old git persona! The City Guard work well as a symbol of the corrupt nature of Port Blacksand as you can bribe your way out of any trouble you get into with them. There's not that many combats in this book on the whole, this being a book that focuses more on the personalities of the various inhabitants than actually thrusting you into combat against everybody you meet, a move that works well. The Leaf Beasts are an interesting creation; they may not be very strong but they are an interesting enemy concept. A nice collection of characters in this one. 8/10.

Storyline/Plot: The plot itself is basic enough with no real additions to it as you go on; the backstory is told completely in the introduction. Barring the untimely arrival of Nicodemus' messenger bird, there are no twists or major developments to the plot. However, the setting is crucial to the success of any story. Port Blacksand as a setting happens to be one of the most vibrant and truly alive settings in any FF book. You can really place yourself in this city, imagine the sights, sounds and smells described to you as you wander around searching for the most obscure items ever needed to fell an Undead horror. For that reason, I'd say the Plot works rather well. 6/10.

Difficulty: I may have completed this but that does in no way make it easy. Whilst the combat for the best part is never too challenging, the essential and unavoidable Moon Dog battle is evil, with only lucky dice or a high skill score getting you through it. I was fortunate to have both! Up to that point it is reasonably difficult to actually die, so this is a rather gentle Ian Livingstone book in that respect. However, the one true path aspect is certainly true in the second half of the book, as you can only find that manhole to get into the sewers if you choose to go down Stable Street. For that reason, this one is reasonably challenging to complete. 7/10

Seal of Approval?: City of Thieves is one of the true classics. Port Blacksand may just about be one of the greatest cities in fantasy writing, although I can't say I'd fancy a trip there! I really, really enjoyed playing this one. To me an FF book is simply a personal duel between the player and the author; the author being the dungeon master with his monsters and traps, leaving the player to use their cunning and lucky dice to outwit them. To best Ian Livingstone in mortal combat such as this once in Forest of Doom felt nice. To beat him once more here is enough to make me feel immortal. This is, of course, highly foolish. Heck, Crypt of the Sorcerer will likely bring me back down to earth with a bone-crunching bang. For now, though, I shall revel in the glory of sweet success. Read this one, it's a delight.
The sweet feeling of beating an OBE in combat for the second time.

Sorry this blog post took so long guys. I actually started it a month ago, with my opening gambit being done straight away. I then hit holidays, illness and mental block preventing me from completing it for ages, which was highly frustrating. To tell the truth, this has been ready to go up for nearly a week now, but I thought I'd hold back to coincide with Fighting Fantasy's 30th Birthday, in an effort to hopefully get more views. The fact I actually won again made the decision to release it today make even more sense; this post proves the evil minds of Fighting Fantasy authors do not always prevail! I shall try not to take a month for the next playthrough, although I shall no longer make any promises as I seem to always fail miserably in keeping them. So, a very happy 30th birthday to FF, a happy 19th to myself (This makes me feel horribly young!) and a thank you to anyone reading this. The moral of this one is not based on the experience of the book but the legacy of FF itself:
Some books will become famous for a short while, but as they age lose their lustre, moving into obscurity never to be heard of again. Some are more like a fine wine; They draw you in with an interesting flavour, but if you leave them for years and then come back to them they can taste even better and be enjoyed all the more for it. They may change their appearance slightly as they age, even adapt to their surroundings to keep themselves relevant, but they will still have that appeal that made them famous back when they were a brand new wine. These are the books that become legendary. 
I'd like to think Fighting Fantasy's legacy is similar to that of that fine Wine, don't you?


May Your Stamina Never Fail...

I make an important announcement and reveal all...

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Blink and you'll Miss It

I am indeed back. Although
I've never really been away...
Hi all. I have not died. I have a reasonable plethora of excuses for my inactivity as of late.

Reason no 1: The Olympics have had my full attention as I've previously mentioned in my last post.

Reason no 2: I spent a week in the Lake District (Lovely part of the world it is too)

Reason no 3: Briefly panicked as I forgot today was A level results day, fortunately I can now confirm that in September I shall be starting a BA in Creative Writing at the University of Northampton, Yay!

Reason no 4: I'm now in one of those nerve-jangling things in life known as a relationship and have therefore been politely advised to use more of my free time towards various relationship things. Fear not, this shall not prevent me from dying endlessly for your reading pleasure!

I will also be going on holiday next week but I will this time take my laptop with me so I can finally get my City of Thieves playthrough done; I am enjoying it, it's taking a while! I've changed my mind about following it up with Blood of the Zombies. I played it a couple of times and felt hollow inside after. One of those times might have something to do with Gingrich Yurr's bazooka leaving a big hole in my chest, but for some reason I just couldn't love it. Personally I think it's the removal of Skill and Luck. To me without them it just didn't feel like a proper FF book. That's probably a debate for another day, maybe even another blog where there are more readers to debate about it like Stuart Lloyd's one. I hope by delaying my playthrough I will appreciate it more when it comes to it; I guess I was so desperate to love it that I expected too much. Rather reminiscent of my recent viewing of The Dark Knight Rises, which I enjoyed but expected more. I just wish I knew what it was that I was expecting from both of them. I'll be back soon hopefully; I feel guilty with my recent slacking of meaningful updates. The moral is simply to Never build up too much hope and expectation for a single event; you may end up feeling disappointed. Keep your hopes low and you can't fail but to be pleasantly surprised. See you soon for some antics in Port Blacksand!

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Just a Quickie

I needed an image. Seeing how our games are
going this seems appropriate.
I must start by saying that all potential innuendo within the title of this post and anything that comes from within is fully intentional. On that note, this post will be short, to the point and will more than likely leave even my hardcore readers unsatisfied. Blood of the Zombies is now out. My signed copy is (hopefully) in the post right now, but some of my lucky fellow bloggers (Namely TorallionMarsten and Stuart Lloyd) were lucky enough to go to Forbidden Planet and meet not only Ian Livingstone in person but also The Tin Man himself of Tin Man Games. From looking at their blog posts/recent tweets it appears they had a rather amazing time of it. Oh for missed opportunities. Bugger. I only hope this will not have been my only opportunity to meet Ian Livingstone or indeed any of the people I mentioned above. A gamebook bloggers meet up of some sort is surely a good idea? (Hint hint!)

To change flow a minute and give you something a little different, (Warned you) how amazing are GB doing in the Olympics right now?! Inspirational stuff. I can't even ride a bike but seeing the efforts of Bradley Wiggins et al makes me want to just get outside and ride a bike to nowhere in particular. To see so many go all the way and provide the climax of a medal in front of an excited home crowd is great and had bought me close to tears on numerous occasions over the past week. More I say! I shall now finish myself by giving you all an overwhelming feeling of relief; I have not forgotten about my City of Thieves playthrough. I have got so caught up in the spirit of the Olympics watching everything that I have simply not had time. It is therefore unlikely that the playthrough will be up before the Olympics reach their conclusion. Apologies for that, but on the positive side by the 12th August I shall be a very proud owner of Blood of the Zombies. Rest assured, I shall be sharing with you what I expect to be a pleasurable experience likely involving death by Zombie, as soon as possible following the conclusion of the greatest Olympic games ever. The moral for today took some thinking; I thought about bemoaning my misfortune of not getting down to London yesterday some more, but positivity and humour wins the day. 'None can appreciate innuendo as much as the Brits'.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Hay Fever is a cruel mistress

The sad story of my week.
I'll begin with an apology. There will be no City of Thieves playthrough this week. (In case you hadn't guessed!) The weather has reached sunny proportions as rare as a sighting of a Shiny Pikachu in Viridian Forest. So, like any normal human being, I took to the great outdoors for various escapades and general 'nothingness'. It's great to do nothing occasionally. Unfortunately for me, for the first time in the short history of my existence, the powers that be have decreed that I suffer from Hay Fever. Suffice to say I'm severely pissed off. It's really nice out and I can't venture outside for fear of having stinging eyes and sneezing fits to rival anybody. So thanks to feeling like I've been violently assaulted and abused by various creatures of the night, I hope you'll all forgive me for not putting any worthwhile content up. Looks like that extra playthrough I gave you all at the beginning of this week will turn out to be THE playthrough of this week. Ah well.

However, I can give you some gamebook-related news while I'm here. The Tin leaders and their various minions over at Tin Man Games are on the cusp of releasing a brand new series of interactive gamebooks. The new series is going to be aimed at a different demographic to what the current GA series is; namely Women. This is interesting. The 'books' are set to be a kind of rom-com choose-your-own-adventure with various fantasy themes, starting off with Vampires. I assume starting with those delightful bloodsuckers is to play on the slight success of a series of novels featuring love and Vampires going by the name of a certain time of day. However, I expect like Tin Man's GA series, this is merely a clever PR ploy to hook people in before the series becomes massive and stands on its own. I will probably not be investing in this series but I hope it does well; it looks like an entertaining concept and will undoubtedly have the very best production values. Tin Man Games are a busy bunch at the moment, with the  launch of their Judge Dredd gamebook just around the weekend. This one I will be buying; I confess to knowing next to nothing about the franchise itself, but will be reading up a general background, as it seems frikkin' amazing if I'm being honest. I also took the time to pre-order my signed copy of Blood of the Zombies from Forbidden Planet (No, I still haven't gotten over not being able to actually go in person. Sob.) With that coming out in a weeks time itself, the world of Gamebooks is positively thriving. Fantastic.
Ah, but will they sparkle?

One final note; don't expect City of Thieves too early next week. I'm off to London, as apparently there's some big event on involving various sporting activities. I have been lucky enough to win tickets in the most sought after raffle in history, so will be cheering on team GB in the Rowing from the stands. I will of course be taking hundreds of Hay Fever pills to keep me alive, provided the people at G4S allow me to take them in. If not, I will sneeze on them until they give in. Whatever you're doing over the next week, enjoy the weather while it lasts and don't forget to cheer on team GB in all the sports across the Olympics this next month. If you're one of my foreign readers, cheer on your respective country's athletes instead. (But keep your fingers crossed for the host nation too, it'll give the games a better atmosphere if we win!) Oh, the moral. Always check the pollen count before you go outside on a sunny day. With that, I'm off to get all excited about the opening ceremony. Take care everybody. 

Monday, 23 July 2012

One for the Kids (First FF - Adventures of Goldhawk: The Demon Spider playthrough)

Remain calm while I eat you.
I feel bad it took so long to get my playthrough of Beneath Nightmare Castle up. In fact, I feel so bad I decided to make it up to you all with an extra playthrough! This is a book I wasn't even aware I had until going through some boxes in the attic mid-week. The Adventures of Goldhawk series of books are apparently designed as an FF series for the younger generation, hence the "First FF Adventures" tagline. There are 4 books in the series, all written by the maestro himself, Ian Livingstone.  The covers are all done by Simon Dewey, whilst all the interior (Colour!) illustrations are copyright Russ Nicholson. Interestingly, all 4 books were also published in 1995, which means that not only was there a short turn around between their respective releases, but also that they were released in the death-throes of the Puffin run. I assume, then, that these books are rather rare. This one is very simplistic in nature, as you'd expect from a book aimed at a younger audience. Sadly, none of the pages are actually attached anymore but all are present and are in perfect condition barring their decision to have parted from the spine. The rules here are basic, with no stat make-up of my character. I get 10 gold pieces and start with a Skill of 8. That's right; no stamina or luck here. It means there's a heavier focus on the reading of the story for the younger reader as opposed to the RPG elements that give the reader a greater grasp on their own destiny in normal FF. You also get a pre-determined character; Prince Goldhawk, the unfortunate fellow on the cover in a rather sticky situation (I'm sorry, couldn't resist!) Well, technically you play as you. It's all a little confusing actually, very timey-wimey in nature. I'll do my level best to explain; despite having not played the first book in the series, The Demon Spider's introduction does it's best to bring me up to speed.

Not a clue what just happened. A more-than-likely
death mission thrust upon me. Yeah, sure, why not?
Karazan is a land cursed by evil Wizards and monsters. Your generic fantasy land, then. The king of Karazan was cruelly slain on the battlefield by something. Owing to the lack of explanation as to whom or what killed the King, I present you with the vision that the king was slain by a murderous Vulture known as Simone Moowell, as an angry response to the King blocking the syndication to Karazan of the talent show "The F factor". Whilst you all mull over that, the backstory moves on a pace. Prince Goldhawk lies unconscious having drunk one too many vials of poison slipped in his orange squash. His poisoning is kept secret by a wise wizard by the name of Marris, who opens a time gate (as you do) to search for somebody to replace Goldhawk. That somebody is me. Happily settling down in bed to watch a Lord of the Rings marathon, I am suddenly hurtling through time and space and find myself in Karazan castle, having been turned into an exact double of Prince Goldhawk. So many questions! What am I doing here? Where is here? What happened to my beautiful face? Does this journey officially make me a Time Lord?! Ok, Ok, BREATH. I apparently agree to help Marris without even questioning whether I get tea and scones for my trouble. I have to get the King's crown back from the presumably evil clutches of Darkmoon the Wizard, from his home at Maggot Manor. With a name like that, it's no wonder the property market in Karazan isn't exactly booming. Oh wait. I don't have to do anything. That was book 1! Apparently I used the Golden Hand to make Darkmoon turn himself into a white Mouse. Now the people of Karazan want me to be their new King. Well, technically they want Prince Goldhawk to be their King, but I am him. Sort of. Ish. It's complicated. Anyway, an army of Skeletons, Dark Druids and Orcs are descending upon us ready to paint their swords in a neat crimson glow. Marris has a plan. The Silver Elves can fend off the Druids and their 'terror bubbles' (Surely the least terrifying attack ever?) whilst he advices me to search for the Giant named Stonehammer to deal with the Skeletons. This Giant is Marris' son. Apparently some fucked-up potion he drank once in his teenage years turned him into a Mountain Giant thing. To help me find Stonehammer, Marris first advises I look for the Queen of Pain in the Dungeon of Despair. Ooh, you've gotta love these places and people with extra noun phrases attached for blatant effect! So it's time to go off and do stuff. I take my trusty talking sword Edge with me to torment the Queen of Pain with when I find her. I also take Orlando, who is a Dwarf. Or rather, was a Dwarf. He now has the body of a metallic Pig. So with these bizarre companions, I set off. By I, I mean Prince Goldhawk. Except I'm not actually he... yet technically I am... hmm.

Run, Fatboy run!
Off we go. After a short period travelling I come across a log cabin. At this cabin is a two-headed man talking about which head is going to eat the poor Lizard currently being spit roasted over an open fire. For some reason the image of the Lizard being spit roasted amuses me. I only wish I could tell you why; I haven't a clue. The book gives this man the name of Two-Heads. Really, Ian?! C'mon, you can do better than that! I call them Eric and Ernie; those two were inseparable after all. I suggest the frankly sensible plan that they simply share the Lizard but get shot down in flames. I squeeze some information out of them by whipping some Chicken legs out of my pocket that I just happened to have packed for the journey, although they also ask for 2 of my Gold pieces. However, in addition to the information that a man named Fat Jack (I wonder what he looks like?!) they also give me a gift. A violin string. Bastards. I'm sure that'll come in real handy! Actually, knowing Ian, there's a high possibility it will in one of those "only in FF" ways. Following Eric and Ernie's advice, I go west towards a village where a race between six 'extremely fat men' is taking place. Ridicule aside, after congratulating Fat Jack on his race win I am told the Dungeon of Despair lies at the end of the Valley of Skulls. I stay to watch Fat Jack lose his second race of the day to Jelly Belly. After regaining my composure after the laughing fit that follows, I ignore a scruffy urchin's plea to get me to buy a book off him and head off towards the Valley of Skulls.

Still, it's easier to understand than the logic behind
an Ian Livingstone item hunt...
Entering the Badlands, Edge and Orlando start dishing out the banter. 'I don't like the look of the Badlands', says Orlando. 'The Badlands probably don't like the look of you', replies Edge. Woah, hefty cussing going on here. Apparently the two of them then settle down for some heated name calling. Sigh, way to influence the kids, Ian. Suddenly I am jumped upon by a Horned Shrieker, which is basically a nasty Lizard-like monster, who I assume can sense the essence of cooked Lizard on me from earlier. Interestingly, the text describes it as having green skin but the illustration shows it as yellow/red. I guess it is covered in sand though... Anyway, combat here works a tad different. We take it in turns to roll under our skill on 2 dice; the first to do so wins. I always get to go first and can't even die here; if I lose I simply lose 1 from my skill whilst Orlando beats the crap out of the horned thing. I don't lose anyway, Edge beheading the blighter with ease. Claiming a Spear, a gold medallion and a copper ring I leave, following some smouldering footprints in the sand which seem both inviting and deadly. Perfect. The footprints belong to a Lava Beast, which is basically your traditional Boulder Beast smothered in Lava. Being a sensible person I neglect to be Edge-y about proceedings and instead throw the contents of my water bottle over it, turning it to stone. Score 1 for basic logic! I get an Iron key, a single gold piece and an attractive gem known as a Firestone. Hmm, even a kids FF has the traditional Ian Livingstone Item Hunt. Moving ever onwards, my party soon comes to a cave with a random vase on a copper plate in the middle of a mass of broken clay pots. I am given the option to either smash the vase, get the hell out of there or throw a gold piece onto the copper plate. Hmm. With there being no logic behind the latter of those options, it is therefore actually the most logical option to choose! Two rings appear, one silver with a Spider's web on it, the other gold with a skull. Being told by a parchment I could only take one, I plump for the silver ring seeing how the book is called The Demon Spider; I therefore assume at some point a ring with a Spider's web on may help.

Still in the Badlands, the gold man, the tin Pig and the talking sword still can't find the yellow brick road towards the Dungeon of Despair we seek. We do, however, find a merchant with a pet Anteater named Snake-Eyes (The merchant, not the Anteater. He's named Hopper. Get that and I'm impressed) Snake-Eyes is so named because of some serious facial tattoos he is sporting. I buy a Crystal of Healing, a Trapping box and an Invisibility spell for the juicy grand total of 6 gold pieces, purely for the reason I imagine I'll need all of them. Remember that Firestone and gold medallion I had? Can't blame you if you have; I'd forgotten the latter myself. Handing the pair over would net me a flying carpet from my new favourite merchant. A flying carpet. Words cannot sum up how amazing that is. However, I decide to be coy and not buy this item for the reason that Snake-Eyes seems a bit of a sly and cunning fellow. Thanks to this moment of madness, we are soon pounced upon by a group of Sand Stalkers, evil hunters who appear to be humanoid-like creatures with Camel heads. Just as Edge screams at me to let him do his thing, we fall into a sand pit. Wait for it, wait for it... Bugger. The Sand Stalkers confiscate Edge and my backpack, and "invite" me to take part in a delightful game of Death Arrow. For those of you unfamiliar to the rules of this old Badlands pastime, allow me to enlighten you. First, an arrow is fired into the distance. Secondly, I throw a rock as far as I can. Following this, the two contending parties must run to where the arrow is. If the person/people who fired the arrow reach it first, the losers die. If the rock thrower reaches the arrow first, they are given their possessions back and allowed to go free. The rock thrower gets a head start; namely from where they were able to throw the rock. Got it? Excellent. I highly recommend it for your next social gathering; it gives you all the excitement of a game of Croquet with the added tension of someone possibly dying - what more do you want?! The Sand Stalkers don't play fair though; I have to carry Orlando with me. A puny rock throw should've told me how this was going to go. My 2 second head start wasn't quite enough. I got beaten to reach 30 first by a measly 1... *Insert word of disappointment here* Left to die in the Badlands, I don't even want to think about how I actually die.

All you need for an exciting game of Death Arrow.
Of course, the scantily-clad Woman is entirely optional...

Well. I can't even win a FF book designed specifically with younger kids in mind. To die to an entirely luck-based die-rolling challenge is mildly annoying. The paragraphs in this book work a little differently to normal FF; each encounter is given a different number with the different ways that encounter can play out given a sub-letter. (i.e 1-A, 1-B etc) To that end, my journey was as follows:


It's hardly worth my time listing my combats; the only one was the Horned Shrieker, which had skill 7 if you are terribly interested at all. Time for a verdict. Time for...


It may just be a Goblin, but I really like the art style here.

Illustrations: The entire book is in colour, from the images to the background of the various paragraphs of text. I assume this is because younger children may not appreciate the beauty of a black and white image; it is more aesthetically pleasing to a younger mind to see lots of bright, vibrant images. This is fine, as the images here are actually of a very high quality. The colour actually helps to bring everything to life more too, which is pleasantly surprising as I am a big fan of the black and white picture. A picture without colour leaves more to the imagination; you have to think up in your head what colours every part of the drawing should be, which to myself at least is something I enjoy doing. Of course, the nature of the fact there's only 21 separate paragraphs here mean there are less illustrations than a normal FF book, so more time can be spent colouring them anyway. The illustrations are nice, and the fact they are in colour serves the presumed purpose to enthral a younger person. My favourite is a Goblin I never met, whom I present for your pleasure. 8/10.

Monsters/other NPC encounters: Virtually every one of the 21 paragraphs involves interaction of some sort with a monster or an NPC. The Demon Spider herself is not particularly exciting; actually none of the characters are. Being aimed at a younger age group less focus is put on the character development, which is fair enough. It's disappointing for a person such as myself reading this, but this book isn't aimed at me, so I shouldn't complain. Orlando and Edge are bizarrely the most interesting characters with the banter between the two of them, regardless of how juvenile it may be. Not my cup of tea, but I can see the characters being interesting enough for the intended audience. 6/10.

Storyline/Plot: I get the feeling this book is a sort of filler story between the first one in the series and the ones that follow; nothing too much happens beyond staving off a Skeleton army by finding a Stone Giant. Still, for a younger person the prospect of stopping an army probably makes for an exciting proposition. Without the other books in this series I can't really say but it feels like the overarching storyline over the 4 books is reasonably interesting. 6/10.

Difficulty: It must be said, if this was a normal FF I would've died back at that cave with the two rings. Normally I would've chosen to try and take both rings and not heed the parchment's warning. The way this book is laid out means that each outcome of the various scenarios are usually visible on the same page. For that reason it was impossible not to notice just below the outcome I chose the text telling me that I was crushed to death if I chose to try and take both. This lowers both the fun of making the decisions and the difficulty of this book. The size of it obviously makes the whole adventure much more linear in nature too, although a younger child would potentially get confused by too much choice on where to go in their adventure. If I'd picked the magic carpet I'd have avoided the game of Death Arrow, but c'est la vie. It must be said that had I not rolled 4 1's in a row for my own movement I probably would've survived the deadly game anyway, so this isn't hard at all. I don't think it's meant to be; it'd put younger people off. 1/10.

Seal of Approval?: I'd be lying if I said I had a great time. This was slightly entertaining, but is way too short and simplistic to engage me fully. That said, this is supposed to be aimed at a far younger reader than myself. To that end, I think this book achieves everything Ian Livingstone set it out to do. I can see this appealing to a younger person, entertaining them enough whilst providing them a sort of tutorial for the harsher world of proper FF when they decide they're ready to play with the big boys now. Therefore I give The Demon Spider an honourable mention for being effective in what it tried to do, but it's not one I'd exactly want to play again, so I can't give it the Seal of Approval.

Does what it set out to do. That's all.

Check out Marsten's latest playthrough, in which he attempts to ride a Storm,. Its a highly entertaining read. City Of Thieves I hope to have done for you all within the next few days, but I make no promises. The moral of this is Do not pretend to be someone whom you are not. The real Prince Goldhawk would've bought that flying carpet, I was a poor imitation. See you soon folks, take care and enjoy the sun!

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Call of Xakhaz (Beneath Nightmare Castle playthough)

She's just a devil woman, with
evil claws for her hands...
It's good to be back on terra firma. Following a frankly embarrassing venture into space last time out, the prospect of being mutilated back on solid ground has never been quite so appealing. To that end, I present Beneath Nightmare Castle. #25 in the Puffin run and not published in either Wizard series, it is my second FF book to feature here devised by Peter Darvill-Evans, following the highly entertaining Portal of Evil. Published in 1987, the cover to your right was drawn by Terry Oaks whilst the interior illustrations are the children of Dave Carson. The rules are mostly standard FF with one vital addition; in Beneath Nightmare Castle you have a Willpower score. This is calculated in the same way as skill and luck and, like luck, I must subtract one from my total whenever I test my willpower. To quote the book, the higher my score, the 'more you can cope with pain, despair and unpleasant surprises.' Ooh, how delightful! What's more, if my Willpower ever drops below 6 and I subsequently fail a test of Willpower, I turn into a gibbering idiot and lose all grip of sanity, not to mention fail the adventure. At least you're still alive this way I guess! There are boxes for both Provisions and gold but I am informed I start with none of either, which means a high stamina roll could well be necessary...

It's a trap! And, like that mouse, I fall for it without
being given an option to not be so stupid.
Imagine my joy when I rolled only Stamina 17. Time for that word which has inadvertently become something of a catchphrase on here - Bugger. Skill 10 is not terrible but nothing to shout home about either, although Luck of 12 and Willpower of 11 do improve my mood slightly. Time for the background to my quest this time out. Before I do anything whatsoever, the book labels me a fool! Actually, I'll give you the opening paragraph of the introduction in full: 'Captured! Netted, strung up and helpless! You curse yourself for an inattentive fool.' (I assume it is supposed to say 'being an inattentive fool' but I can forgive a minor editing error) Apparently I had been trekking towards the town of Neuberg to meet my old pal Baron Tholdur, Mar-grave of Neuberg keep. We fought together in arms at the battle of Helm Hill y'see, defeating the Barbarian scum from the south. On a side note, there does seem to be an underlying theme within FF books where all Bandits/Barbarians that try and kill/rob you are either dark-skinned or from the south. What this says about social stereotypes in the 1980's, I'm not too sure, but it is an interesting point to take note of. Well, to me at least. To you, a far more interesting point of note is that those same Barbarians have captured me. The sly buggers used the old unfamiliar birdsong around a solitary tree to draw me in and due to failing to see a suspiciously overhanging branch, I found myself dangling upside down in a net suspended from said suspicious branch. For some reason, instead of gleefully treating me to the death of a thousand cuts, they simply knock me out. The introduction promptly comes to a close here. Unlike the epic back story of Sky Lord before it, Beneath Nightmare Castle's does not reveal much, yet I find myself perhaps as much drawn in by the lack of knowing what is going on than the full SP that Sky Lord gave me. Perhaps there's something to be said about being knocked out before going into an FF adventure...

I wake. By 'I', I mean Francis Wayland Thurston, which is my personal moniker this time around. If anyone gets my reasoning for this, give yourself a gold star! I don't normally quote the books that much in my playthroughs but the second line of the first entry is quite a wonderful fantasy metaphor: 'A particularly insistent Dwarf blacksmith seems to be using your head as an anvil.' I've got to remember that for the next excuse when I have a hangover! Apparently time passes and suddenly a voice whispers that it has a knife and will sever my bonds if I shuffle my way over to the source of the voice. Fortunately for Francis, the voice is good to its word and soon I am free! Well, of my bonds at least. Tearing my blindfold off, it becomes apparent that I'm in a cellar. Neglecting the opportunity to add to that Dwarven hangover, I escape up the stairs. In the stone room that follows, there are conveniently no guards to bring a swift halt to my escape. Even more conveniently my sword is lying on the floor. Francis deduces that he is in one of the towers of Neuberg's east gate. Interesting. To escape from the gatehouse I am faced with a refreshingly different kind of stat test; I must roll under my combined Skill and Stamina scores using eight dice in order to break down the door. To my immense frustration, I roll tantalisingly close to doing so; I actually roll 27, the exact total of my combined scores. I knew that low stamina score would prove my downfall! Thankfully, his inability to open a door does not spell the end of the adventure for Francis, at least not yet. As I am mentally preparing myself for another go, 6 of my southern captors return. Freedom is mine if I can best them all in combat, conveniently one at a time.

These would have proved a far more
formidable set of Southern Pansies to fight.
Well, fortunately these Southern Pansies are no match for Francis, who leaves all 6 dead in a whirlwind of exhibition swordplay. Entering the town, Francis recalls that the Southern (What is this obsession?!) Star tavern is a friendly place to go and rest up, so heads in that direction. The Innkeeper lets me in to his otherwise empty establishment, so it is not difficult to obtain a room for the night. David the innkeeper offers me some special Neuberg brandy when I mention Baron Tholdur, but before I can get royally pissed he asks for proof that I thought alongside the Baron at Helm Hill. Showing him my bling gold ring that the good Baron gifted to me. David tells me people are disappearing and that 'things' wander around outside at night. Wishing to remain alive, I take his advice to stay inside overnight and rest up for the morning. My sleep is not pleasant; I am awoken by the sound of some sort of creature just outside the window. I'm almost grateful that the book automatically assumes I do not want to go and investigate, a gruesome death is not what I'm after just yet!

You asked for heavenly assistance?....
In the morning Daisy (Who you ask? David's wife, silly!) brings me a tasty breakfast before I pay them both for their kind hospitality. Considering I was told I had no gold at the beginning, to not only afford the accommodation for the night AND have 5 gold pieces left after is slightly odd. David advised Francis to head towards the temple area of town, so seeing how nice he had been to me I decided his advice was as good as any a place to start. An old man sits by the temple entrance who tells me he is Huw, last priest of Oiden. I follow him inside and am ushered to sit down on a stool. Without warning, Huw puts a knife to my throat! It's another trap, and I fell for it again! Well, is it a trap though? Huw tells me that it was he who rescued me from the cellar back at the beginning of all this; I have to donate my golden ring to obtain Oiden's assistance in my quest. Perhaps more importantly, I have to donate the ring to avoid having my throat slashed by old Huw. Huw changes his tone the moment I hand the ring over; Now I am the champion of Neuberg, bestowed a total of 3 provisions to survive on and also privy to a little bit of knowledge as to what the fuck is actually happening here! It transpires old Huw is very old indeed, having actually helped to build the decrepit temple Francis is now standing in. Apparently many years ago in Neuberg there was a titanic struggle between the priests of Oiden and Xakhaz, the latter being the archmage of the despicable gods of Zagoula. Huw informs me that Xakhaz was never destroyed, only his earthly form. Xakhaz has returned and may now already possess material form once more! Gulp. Way to kill the mood, Huw. If I can recover the Talisman of Loth I can weaken all of Xakhaz's twisted minions, although it is currently and very predictably missing. Before I leave, Huw allows me to undertake a test of Oiden. This test involves being in Oiden's presence; precisely climbing a ghostly limbed tree for no apparent reason. The stat roll is similar to the one I faced earlier, only combining my Willpower and stamina scores this time around. I roll exactly 27 again, which this time is enough to succeed. The prize for this is quite nice indeed; My initial stamina and willpower can both increase by 1! Whilst this is not a massive boost to my stamina the addition to my Willpower I sense will be most useful indeed, so I thank Oiden and Huw before sodding off to actually do something meaningful to stop Xakhaz.

I may be a Tree now, but I'm the best darned Tree
in the land!
Francis decides there is not enough time to waste wandering around anymore of the town so heads off in the direction of Neuberg Keep. A side entrance to the Keep seems a more stealthy way of going about things than simply striding up to the main gate, so I divert to a path to the right. Sneaking through a door in the undergrowth, Francis finds his way into a kitchen garden. A bit of exploring through an overgrown path finds a statue of an Elven maiden. I move the statue's right arm based on the logic that moving a statue's arm shouldn't probably kill me and am rewarded when the statue pours green liquid from its urn into a basin at its feet. Francis decides to drink this liquid, as Elven maidens are usually helpful people. Unfortunately, this liquid is concentrated magical fertiliser and before I know it I have transformed into a lovely young Tree!

Well that was unexpected. What's nice is that I didn't strictly die; I merely became a feature in a garden for years to come. Trust me, that's alot more pleasant than many of the ways to go in this one! It must be said though that I'm rather gutted to go quite early on; I was really enjoying the slow build up to this one, with more of the plot becoming apparent as I went on. My brief yet enjoyable journey was as follows:


Only 29 paragraphs then. Short but sweet. It did feel like the adventure was only really beginning, despite the fact that alot of stuff happened in that short space of time. After all, I had only just entered Neuberg Keep. Only one combat for me in this one, albeit against six opponents.

First Swordsman - Skill: 5 Stamina: 5
Second Swordsman - Skill: 6 Stamina: 4
Third Swordsman - Skill: 4 Stamina: 6
Fourth Swordsman - Skill: 5 Stamina: 5
Fifth Swordsman - Skill: 4 Stamina: 3
Sixth Swordsman - Skill: 4 Stamina: 8

As I said before, a bunch of pansies that lot were, no real challenge even if you had a weak initial skill roll. Of course, had I progressed further I would have faced far worse creatures and abominations than those. Anyway, I enjoyed this one enough to flick through to get a very good understanding of...


Look everybody, Its Cthulhu!...

Not pleasant, agreed.
But too scary?!
Illustrations: There are some wonderfully macabre illustrations throughout Beneath Nightmare Castle. A group of Blood-Lurchers, whom I would have been sucked dry by had I left the inn at night, look wonderfully sinister with their various tentacles in their mouths flailing all over the place. There's a barrel filled with shrunken heads, the image showing their open eyes staring at you, which is somewhat off-putting. For an extra special treat this time round, I'm choosing to feature two illustrations here. On the left is actually an illustration that never made it into the published book; it was banned for being 'potentially too frightening'. Bollocks. On the right is Xakhaz, or rather, the combined mass of things that make him up. Notice the obsession with tentacled things in this FF; A wonderful nod to Lovecraftian literature. 8/10.

Monsters/other NPC encounters: Joy. That's the best way to describe the nest of horrors within this one. From those delightfully macabre Blood-Lurchers to groups of homicidal children hanging out in the marketplace, almost every encounter has an entertainingly refreshing feel to it, again with more than a few subtle references to the works of HP Lovecraft, which is no bad thing. Oh, that Woman on the cover. She's a tragic character should you ever encounter her. Saving her from her tragic fate is no easy task either. There is a nice variety of nasties here to please all of those with a fascination for the strange and deadly. 9/10.

Storyline/Plot: I liked the fact that so little was known from the introduction. Indeed, I didn't even know who the big bad was until I spoke to Huw. Although, is Xakhaz operating solely on his own without any assistance whatsoever?! I'm saying nothing here... I highly imagine more would have been slowly drip-fed (Ironic I know, seeing how it ended!) had I not become a Tree, but I was intriguied by what I had learnt. Traces of cult like behaviour were lying in the shadows it seems, and again a Lovecraftian influence to the plot appears to be present. That's not a complaint, this was going all nicely until the end. 7/10.

Difficulty: This is perhaps the one weak point of Beneath Nightmare Castle. It's not easy. In fact, it's fiendishly difficult to even escape from those Southerners at the very beginning. I just got lucky with my choices. If you don't accept the stranger (Huw)'s help, you die. If you stay to search the cellar, you die. If I attacked Huw when he had the knife to my throat, I would have died. If I ventured outside the inn at night, there was a high possibility that I would have had all the blood sucked out of me. Get the point? It's very difficult to get anywhere fast in this book, which is a crying shame as it's a highly entertaining ride. I get the feeling an immense sense of satisfaction and achievement is due to the person who survives this. 9/10.

Seal of Approval?: High difficulty level aside, Beneath Nightmare Castle is a real delight. The horror themes work really well, whilst some of the death scenes are simply a pleasure to read. Well, a pleasure to read if you're into that sense of the macabre, coupled with a sadistic love of twisted and inventive deaths. Yes, turning into a Tree counts as an inventive death. It's ridiculously obvious at this point as to whether that fluffy Seal is making a reappearance to this blog as my love for this FF is quite clear. Is it my favourite so far? That's a toughie. I loved Portal of Evil for different reasons; mainly involving Dinosaurs. So I can't decide. It doesn't matter. They're both written by Peter Darvill-Evans. Therefore it is safe to say he is my favourite FF author at the moment. It's been a pleasure, it really has.
Admit it. You've missed this face.
For those of you in search of something a bit different, Marsten's been taking a cruise on the Freeway whilst I've been taking up gardening in unexpected ways. The moral of this story is Never drink anything green; it might have unexpected after-effects. You might all note some flashy new links along the top of this blog; I've spent this week sprucing up the blog with some new pages to make it easier to access previous playthroughs and to also see what playthroughs may be coming up. Check them out, I like to feel that they've given a bit more polish to this place. 


May Your Stamina Never Fail...

I decide it's time to take a break and relax for a bit, heading for a tavern to meet up with some old friends. Perhaps I should've picked a better place to go than Port Blacksand though, also known as the City of Thieves....