Wednesday, 27 June 2012

And now for something completely different... (Gamebook Adventures - Temple of the Spider God playthrough)

Why oh why couldn't it be
Temple of the Dinosaur God?!
Those of you who have been following my blog from the beginning may or may not recall my mentioning of the Gamebook Adventures series by Tin Man Games, a very enjoyable series of digital gamebooks in a similar vein to Fighting Fantasy. These 'books' are currently available on iPod and iPad for a very reasonable price and there are currently 8 in the series. This number looks set to explode faster than the House of Hell after you fell a dodgy butler over the coming months, which is something that I hope you'll agree is rather awesome. Even better is that they now have the FF licence, which means Blood of the Zombies and more besides will get the expert digitalisation that Tin Man can provide. Judge Dredd is also getting the Tin Man treatment, although to be totally honest I have never read it before and know next to nothing about the series. (I'll still be buying it - I have no doubts about its quality) I believe those of you who are lucky enough to own an Android can also get the GA series. Rather sadly, I do not own an Android, which is a pity as I imagine having a robot to do one's own evil bidding that can also play digital gamebooks is one frikkin' awesome robot. Oh wait, an Android phone...

I'll be completely honest. Being a guy who loves books, games and writing, I am rather jealous of anyone who gets to write/edit/publish Gamebooks. Therefore naturally Tin Man Games sit top of the list of the people/companies that inspire me/are places I want to end up at with my life. The whole point of doing Creative Writing at Uni is to try and get myself a better chance of becoming an FF/GA author in the future. That and to get more creative with my wording - I am currently having a go at writing a gamebook with a working title of Shipwreck Survivor, which is horrendously lame. Still, the prospect of going into a bookshop one day and seeing a book with the name Eddie Boshell on it drives me to keep writing and endeavour to continue improving. Anyway, this is supposed to be a gamebook playthrough blog, not a job application! My first GA title I ever bought was #7 in the series, Temple of the Spider God. For that simple reason, it shall be the first GA playthrough I feature on here. Yes, I know this is primarily an FF blog, but hey, Tin Man have the FF licence now, so if you think about it they're all one big happy family anyway! Quite why Temple was the first GA I bought I have no idea - I HATE SPIDERS. I'm not an arachnophobe as such; I have nothing against Scorpions. But Spiders. Spiders can fuck off. Yet I cannot deny they make a classic fantasy monster owing to alot of people sharing my irrational fear of them. Well, I say irrational. It would be irrational if Spiders had done nothing against me. But after dying to them in my first few attempts at Temple the day I bought it, I'd say I have fair reason to fear them. Temple is illustrated (In colour! - see later for my views on this) by Joshua Wright, with the cover art by Dan Maxwell. The adventure itself is penned by Jonathan Green.

Quite possibly the greatest
evil genius within the world of Fantasy
gamebooks - I like to think that's
a wonderful compliment.
Ahh, Jonathan Green. Fans of FF will know him well from his entries towards the end of the Puffin run of books, as well as some of the new Wizard books. Fans of FF will also be aware how a typical Jonathan Green adventure goes; the guy plays for keeps. No nurturing the player through the story, with the adventure getting increasingly harder as you go through. Oh no, you get thrown in right at the sharp end, often with a fight in the first or second paragraph. His books are notoriously very difficult, with many high skill enemies preventing weak intital rolls from being able to realistically survive. However, I find his storytelling first-class; His FF books will more than likely be my happiest entries in the entire blog. (On that note, does anyone know where I can get Knights of Doom for a reasonable price? Everywhere I look it's upwards of £30) One other thing Jon Green is famous for is his use of codewords throughout, as well as many other anti-cheating devices (Damn you for foiling my plans!) Having just flicked through some FF books for inspiration as to what book to play after Forest of Doom, it occurred to me that alot of these codewords are words spelt backwards, i.e REGNAD. I have read through Bloodbones numerous times and it's taken until now to realise this, which makes me feel rather inferior and unworthy of succeeding in an FF or GA book anytime soon. Anyway, I'm digressing, and not for the first time!

GA books follow similar yet different rules to an FF title. There are 3 different difficulty settings; Classic, Bookworm and Novice. The difficulty setting determines how many bookmarks you get, which are a sort of checkpoint you can return to if you die; I love these, especially given how punishing the combat system can be. They also slightly affect your starting stats. Gone are Skill, Stamina and Luck. In GA you have Vitality, Fitness, Offensive and Defensive. Vitality is essentially the same as stamina, and Fitness works in much the same way as Skill. Offensive and Defensive only apply during combat, and effect the number of dice you get to roll for your attack and defence respectively. You don't roll for the latter two stats; they both start at 1 and can reach a maximum of 6. Now for that combat. FF employs what I like to think of as a easy to use yet basic combat; GA uses a more realistic yet hard-hitting style. In GA you take turns to attack and defend, rolling a number of dice equal to your offensive or defensive stat, depending on whether you're attacking or defending. Unlike FF, it is not your highest total that wins the attack round/parries the blow, but the highest number on the dice. This means that a person with offensive value 6 can still struggle against a defensive 1. What makes this system so punishing is that if you're hit you lose vitality points equal to the total of the winner of the attack round. Therefore you could roll 6 5's for your defence, yet if your opponent rolls 5 4's and a single 6, you take a gargantuan 26 vitality hit. Ouch. You can test for fitness in a similar way to testing luck in FF - if you pass you add 1 to the number of your highest die roll, or subtract 1 if you fail. Temple also features Phobia rolls when coming across Spiders, a stat that is thankfully predetermined otherwise my phobia score would most likely be 1. Anyway, that's a basic overview, time to dive in!

I decided to play on Bookworm difficulty, which is the middle ground - you get more bookmarks than classic but don't get any nice additions to your stats. Therefore for my starting vitality I roll 4 dice and add 24, and my fitness roll 1 die and add 6.
This would be a great time to split...
Vitality 43, Fitness 8. Bugger. I recall a low fitness score meaning doom for my character, who this time around is called Peter Parker. Oh yeah, my offensive and defensive scores both start at 2, which is double what I thought they started at. Hooray! Temple is set as most GA books are in the fictional land of Orlandes, and features an interesting set-up. Cesaro Cortez, that famous explorer you've never heard of went missing some three years ago, feared dead by all apart from his pet Ferret, whose only fear was where its next meal of Rabbit soufflé was going to come from. So, Ferret aside, the people of Orlandes were full of the joys of spring when some mysterious cargo arrived in the port of Miramar. You however, couldn't give a shit at the start. Having just freed the Axe Bite Pass (Such a great name!) and the villages of the Dragonmarches from the clutches of the Fellclaw, your only real concern is praise and reward from Duke Rodrigo for your feat of brilliance. As you get to the meat of being thanked, two conquistadors barge in carrying a large chest. This chest has been delivered via first class delivery on order of Cortez himself. Apparently this chest contains gold for the Duke from Cesaro. Bullshit. Spider Sense on full alert, Petey offers to open the chest for the Duke, more than suspicious of the day's happenings. Rather predictably, he finds no gold inside but instead a black and red Spider the size of a man's head leaps out keen to remove my name from the next Census. Annoyingly, I fail the phobia roll I am forced to make, instead fighting this spider whilst, and I quote 'quaking in my boots'. Whilst I myself would have been shitting myself, I'd have thought a great warrior such as Peter Parker would have had a bit more resolve about him than a Phobia score of 7. Still, I suppose even the greatest and most powerful warriors have something they're scared of. I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time here I guess...

Despite losing 1 of my offensive value due to failing that phobia roll (Which explains why it starts at 2) I skewer the hideous creature on my sword, taking in a huge sigh of relief. Unfortunately, Cortez's crew lob the chest at me as they try and escape. Petey's Spider Sense (Ok, Fitness) again saves the day, as I expertly catch the chest and hurl it back in one sweet move, knocking one of the bastards out. Swiftly killing the other, I catch my breath as the Duke gives his chamberlain a right rollicking for letting these would-be murderers in. What follows is truly gruesome. I notice a lump on the dead guy's back. Thinking in the confusion Petey had thrown a Spider tracer onto his back, he checked it out. It wasn't a Spider tracer. It was another giant spider, with it's fangs buried in the man's spine. Just before the Spider detaches itself from it's dead host, I run it through, doing the same as I discover the other man was the same. Positively disgusting. I am only glad there was no illustration for this; it was disturbing enough as it is! Duke Rodrigo now decides I must lead an investigation into what the hell just happened, as it would appear Cesaro Cortez is not dead after all. For the good of that poor Ferret, he must be found! I am given 60 Pestados and sent on my way.

There's something fishy going on here...
 My first port of call is to the Explorer's Guild, complete with random Mermen statues outside. Guildmaster Vido Gonzalez (Jon Green had evidently been to Spain/Mexico around the time of writing this) claims he may know something about Cortez but a small donation to Save the Whales will help jog his memory. Ok, so it wasn't Save the Whales, but I feel better thinking it is as opposed to just funding the Explorer's Guild! He tells me that Cesaro went missing 3 years ago on an expedition to the Isla des Desperanza. He leaves me with a page from Cortez's journal, which tells me how he lost one of his ships to some great Behemoth of the ocean. Heading to the docks, Peter Parker finds two ships waiting. Having been informed by Vido that one of Cortez's ships was called the Sea Witch, you might expect me to head straight for the ship called that. Not being a big fan of playing logically, I decide to explore the plain black-sailed ship before going to a ship that most likely has a plethora of killer Spiders on board. Showing this ruffian on the gangplank the official Miramar seal (A proper seal this time) he lets me board. He takes me to see his cargo, and it becomes alarmingly apparent that this is a Slave ship. Quite clearly poking my nose in business that doesn't concern me annoys said Slavers, so it's no great surprise when a couple of them spring themselves upon me. I kill them rather than enslave them, in the effort to teach them that crime really doesn't pay. However, with such great power comes great responsibility, so I use the keys I took off one of them to free the Slaves. I also find 20 Pestados for my troubles. If I die on the next page, my moral conscience is clear. Freeing Slaves is such a liberating experience...

All those Spiders, and not a single radioactive one.
Onto the Sea Witch. One of Cortez's ships being in port is very suspicious so it'd be foolish not to take a little peek. I charge the first few crewmen on deck, launching into yet another combat. Slaying them, the ship starts to depart. Trying to prevent them from getting away that easily, Peter fires a web and shoots across to the deck. Flinging a lantern across the deck for the hell of it, I soon realise that was a great idea, only now I'm trapped on a burning ship. Shrewd move Petey, shrewd fucking move. Retreating into the hold hoping to find some anti-Arachnid device, I instead find a fuck load of Spiders. Big Spiders, little Spiders, jumping Spiders, black Spiders and finally a decidedly worrying amount of the same skullback Spiders that tried to kill the Duke. Once again failing my phobia check, I defend myself against two of the latter. Fleeing the stomach-churning cargo hold, I head into another room on the ship, finding a disappointingly empty Captain's cabin. I guess meeting Cortez this early on would bring a rather quick ending to proceedings.  I find another page from his journal suggesting of dark monsters on the Isla des Desperanza.  Fortunately at this point the will to live takes over and Peter is forced to jump into the sea. Worryingly the Sea Witch continues despite being a flaming inferno. Before anything else, it's time to go shopping!

On my bizarre venture into the bazaar I buy some armour, (Defence up to 4) a better sword, (Offence up to 3) a rope (provided it doesn't strangle me it shall be most useful), some anti-venom and a fuckload of healing herbs. I'm given the option of trekking via land or the sea to reach the Isla des Desperanza. Thinking I'm more likely to avoid Spiders by taking the wet route, I look for a ship. Unfortunately, my heroism from earlier catches up with me, and some Slavers who weren't around earlier come hunting for my head. Teaching them the error of their ways in a pretty finite way, I find a captain Nesto who reluctantly agrees to take me places. Sticking to the safety of the shore, we go on a bit until we come across a wreck, which I duly investigate. Some rather powerful Crabs get rather crabby about their home being disturbed, so I send one of the crew in to fight. That's one of the interesting dynamics about Temple; there's various opportunities to gain allies to help you out in fight situations, which is extremely helpful. Derek the Crewman is a good Crab-slayer, so soon we can explore the wreck in safety. I find two Emerald eyes and another journal page, this time mentioning of a sleeping God...

Alas poor Derek, I knew him well.
Heading back to the Kraken (The ship, not an evil monster with tentacles) I instruct Nesto to return to the shoreline. Coming across a secluded bay, Peter spots a Reman ship. Being my first GA book, I am unaware as to who/what a Reman is, but apparently they have an Empire (or used to), are notorious for enslaving people and have absolutely no business being this side of the world. Could they be behind the Spider attack? I hope not, cos I leave them to whatever it is they're doing and sail onwards. The next day (Yes, this is possibly one of the longest gamebooks in terms of time expired) we come to an island with what appears to be a noble's palace present. My spider-sense doesn't tingle, so I decide there's nothing here that will help me either. Out of nowhere, a gargantuan storm kicks up and the Kraken starts getting tossed around. We survive, but with lots of damage Nesto decides we ought to take refuge in the nearby town of Quintos. Quintos appears to have become a ghost town since Nesto last visited. It's therefore surprisingly unsurprising when Derek and I get ambushed by an.... ambusher.  To my eternal sadness Derek died, leaving me to wreak my revenge upon my foe. Aha! This ambusher was host to one of those massive Spiders from earlier; walking through Quintos reveals webs everywhere, with drained husks of animals and humans adorning the streets. Gruesome stuff, to be truly honest. A temple to Hydros is similarly smothered in webs, so I take Derek's brother Carl with me and head inside.

Inside is hell reincarnated as a Spider. On the ceiling lies a Spider 'at least twice as big as a carthorse. It's bulbous body is mottled a filthy green and brown.' Gulp. With suitable music in the background, Carl and myself chop through some more human hosts and force our way through to the mammoth Spider. Miraculously passing my phobia check on the largest Spider yet, a titanic duel ensues. Carl gets eaten almost instantly, but I just about survive to end the monstrosity. Unfortunately, this Spider is a different species from the Skullbacks, so it's just a random fucking huge evil thing. Hooray!... Raising the temple to the ground, I return to Nesto mourning the loss of Derek and Carl. A day after the Quintos visit the lookout  (The third brother, Clive) spots the Isla des Desperanza on the horizon. Suddenly a concentrated beam of light sets the Kraken alight, forcing Peter to dive into the sea. When I eventually come to I have not become a Scorpion again but rather landed on the Isla des Desperanza. What a stroke of luck! Clive is nowhere to be seen though; Doris is going to have a hard time when news of her sons' equally painful deaths gets through...

In the Jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion is strangely absent. After wandering around for a bit, I find a bridge full of webs and Spiders. Jonathan Green - Why must you gnaw at my fears so constantly?!?! Taking in a deep sigh, I prepare to cross. Halfway across a different variety of giant Spiders (as big as dogs this time!) come hurtling towards me. Now more than capable of coping with my phobia, I draw my sword. Be-legging them, I sprint across the remainder of the bridge, coming across a statue of a giant Spider, complete with Sapphires for eyes. Just avoiding a poison dart flying from the Spider statue's mouth, I grab the eyes and move on. To cannibal Pygmies. Peter runs for his life, but gets hit by a dart from their blowpipes. Thank god for that Anti-venom! I just about survive with enough energy to make my escape.

Think this, but covered with webs and Spiders.
Not the best holiday destination.
I stumble across a temple-like pyramid quite likely similar to the above, deducing a side entry would be stealthy and best. Going into the little ravine on the side, my Spider sense goes like crazy. Some venomous Spiders jump out, bite me and leave me in a comatose state. The book has a nice juicy description of my end, so I quote: 'There is nothing you can do as the Spiders bind you in more of their webs, then leave you in the damp gully to rot before feasting on your deliquescing flesh.' Yep, a most delightful way to go, that...

It's worth noting that there's ALOT of ways to die in this. There is a separate death paragraph for any fight you lose, so I imagine Jon had some fun writing all of those gruesome ends. My journey before getting eaten was as follows:

1–159–249–123–482–560–125-600-157-4-57-241-551-559-464-568-525-564-433-514-350-397- 143-189-238-416-599-220-269-507-594-29-102-138-269-507-102-138-142-569-117-496-487-267-587-319-373-188-511-425-265-124-450-601-353-598-372-23-443-108-96-30-526-494-132-185-106-172-578-603-273- 275-512-486-562-338-421-575-597-483-198-78-455-303-550-302-446.

I only visited 83 different paragraphs; that's not many. There's also more paragraphs than your average FF book in this. The nature of GA books being digital means I don't actually know how many paragraphs there are, but as you can see from above there's over 600! The fact there's a separate death one for each fight lost would increase the number substantially though. Despite the small number of paragraphs I visited, I had to unsheathe my sword on a vast number of occasions -

Skullback Spider - Vitality: 4 Offensive: 2 Defensive: 1
Conquistador 2 - Vitality: 9 Offensive: 3 Defensive: 2
Slaver 1 - Vitality: 10 Offensive: 2 Defensive: 2
Slaver 2 - Vitality: 13 Offensive: 2 Defensive: 2
Sailor 1 - Vitality: 10 Offensive: 1 Defensive: 2
Sailor 2 - Vitality: 9 Offensive: 1 Defensive: 2
Skullback Spider 1 - Vitality: 10 Offensive: 2 Defensive: 1
Skullback Spider 2 - Vitality: 8 Offensive: 2 Defensive: 1
Thug 1 - Vitality: 10 Offensive: 2 Defensive: 2
Thug 2 - Vitality: 10 Offensive: 2 Defensive: 2
Scar Crab 1 - Vitality: 8 Offensive: 3 Defensive: 3
Scar Crab 2 - Vitality: 14 Offensive: 3 Defensive: 3
Ambusher - Vitality: 12 Offensive: 2 Defensive: 1
Spider Host 1 - Vitality: 12 Offensive: 2 Defensive: 2  
Spider host 2 - Vitality: 14 Offensive: 2 Defensive: 2
Monstrous Spider - Vitality: 25 Offensive: 5 Defensive: 3
Web-Shooter 1 - Vitality: 10 Offensive: 3 Defensive: 1
Web-Shooter 2 - Vitality: 9 Offensive: 3 Defensive: 1
Venomous Spider 1 - Vitality: 16 Offensive: 4 Defensive: 1
Venomous Spider 2 - Vitality: 14 Offensive: 4 Defensive: 1

So, as is common with a Jonathan Green gamebook, there are numerous fights. By the quick and sometimes harsh nature of combat in GA, an opponent with Vitality, Offensive and Defensive values of 1 could theoretically kill you regardless of how high your totals were; Obviously though the Monstrous Spider was the most dangerous combat of those above. My next feature's name is very FF-orientated, not GA, although seeing how Jon has penned FF himself, not to mention (again) the fact Tin Man have acquired the digital FF licence, I don't see why I can't re-use the name for a GA book. So sit tight, it's time for...


Trust me - you don't even want to
know what THAT is...
Illustrations: The nature of a digital gamebook means I cannot just flick through the book and see all the illustrations for myself. Therefore there are a number of images I simply haven't seen. That said, the ones I did come across were of good quality and as previously mentioned, in colour. Now, I'm not sure about this. There's something nice about a black and white image in a fantasy gamebook. I'm not sure what; I just prefer a non-colour image. Saying that, I fully understand why Tin Man use colour illustrations. They work far better in a digital gamebook than an actual real-life book and are perhaps more appealing to the casual consumer. If Temple was ever released as an actual paperback (If anyone at Tin Man reads this, please make paperbacks of the GA series, I'd happily buy them all over again if you did!) I think black and white illustrations would work far better. The cover is nice; it gives an atmospheric feel for the whole jungle-temple adventure, even if I never did get inside! The 'interior' illustrations are mostly pretty good, with my pick being on the right. It's not my favourite, but it gets brownie points for scaring the shite out of me when I stumbled across it playing at midnight with the lights off! 7/10

Monsters/other NPC encounters: Again, you can't just flick through this and see all the encounters for yourself, which sadly means there's likely many encounters I can't tell you about. However, after finishing my playthrough I did play again on Novice, taking a slightly different route. There was a Vampire living in that noble's palace, Spider Centaurs inside the temple and Inzi, who is best described by looking above. As is common with Jon Green adventures, there is also a pleasing amount of NPC's to talk to and explore with. The addition of allies to help with combat (Poor Derek and Carl) is a nice feature that helps to ease the pain of the sometimes brutal combats. Combats in a Jon Green book are notoriously fiendishly difficult (apparently the opening combat in this was altered to make it slightly less horrible) and whilst there are many challenging fights I wouldn't say any are unfair here. Except perhaps Inzi. She's a real bitch. Despite the strong focus on Spiders there's some great variety here. 9/10

Storyline/Plot: There's a great story here, with a sense of mystery surrounding Cesaro Cortez. More is revealed to the reader as they progress, with the journal pages teasingly revealing bit by bit if you can find them all. Without giving away too much from the ending, everything falls quite nicely into place. Exploration is something I would encourage - there are many side quest style mini plots and adventures that help add to the adventure, like that noble Vampire. Jon Green is known for his strong storytelling within his gamebooks: This one is no different. 9/10

Difficulty: When I played back through on novice difficulty, I actually completed this! Starting with 12 fitness helps immensely; there's numerous pass-or-die fitness tests near the end, so a strong fitness score becomes a minor necessity. The only items you truly need are those various jewelled eyes (Not just the ones I found in the above playthrough though!) but buying items from the market to help boost your Offensive/Defensive scores is very useful. Of course, I could have used one of my bookmarks to 'turn back' to just before I died to those venomous Spiders and replay the fight, such is the beauty of the inclusion of such 'save points'. For the purpose of my own rules for this blog I did not do this, but I can't stress what a handy feature the bookmarks are. Their inclusion lowers the difficulty somewhat, but this is still challenging enough. 7/10

Seal of Approval?: This is a great adventure. I cannot stress how much I hate Spiders, but I was strangely drawn in by this one and it's 8-legged inhabitants. The Mayan/Spanish/Mexican exotic setting worked well; I felt really immersed within it. Worth noting is the vivid descriptions of the various encounters and places, which is something Jon Green has done very well here. That description of my death was equally as beautiful as it was terrifying, as bizarre as that sounds. I know you guys are probably fed up of what follows but I promise not every entry will have the blighter below!

Different gamebook series. Same Seal.

GA books may work similarly to FF ones, but they are equally as enjoyable and definitely unique. The combat system is of particular interest; after I have got through some more playthroughs of both series I will do a mini debate on the pros and cons of both systems. I will be returning to FF next time out with that promised playthrough of Forest of Doom either later this week or early next. Now you've read this, go check out some other blogs in the FF/other gamebook playthrough family. Paul's been travelling through the stars, Murray's been dealing with deadly talismans and Marsten's been going all oriental. Marsten's also been looking at multi-player gamebooks; stay tuned on that, we may have an interesting collaboration coming to a blog near you soon! If you like the sound of GA, check out the official website for more on the series. I already linked them earlier, but also check out Tin Man Games for news on their projects and currently a very interesting feature on the combat in GA books. Lastly each and every one of you (Including you!) should pay Jonathan Green's blog a visit to check out his vast collection of various fantasy projects. The last thing I should do is the moral for this escapade. Never enter a spider-infested temple from the side. Remember that folks, it could just save your life.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Mountaineering (The Warlock of Firetop Mountain playthrough)

Nostalgia's a truly wonderful thing.
It is the year 2000. A freckled kid with short Strawberry-blonde hair (Think of a ginger in denial!) goes into an old second-hand bookshop with his parents, looking for his first book of the new Millennium. He finds a dusty old book in a box on the floor, looking somewhat like the one on the right. The kid is utterly fascinated by the cover, the Dragon magically appearing out of some form of magical orb, to protect the frail (Yeah right!) old man from harm. Having only 7 years of life behind him, the kid's imagination runs wild, and fully buys into the opportunity to himself become the hero and meet/battle a Dragon, as the enticing words on the cover suggest. After getting his parents to buy the book for him, he goes home, never once relinquishing his vice-like grip on it, for fear of the secrets of Firetop Mountain falling into the wrong hands.

Once home, the kid frantically looks through the books' early pages to see what he needs to pack in his suitcase for his trip to meet this 'Warlock'. Alas, he instead finds rules on how to roll dice for his Skill, Stamina and Luck scores. This wasn't a book telling him how to find Firetop Mountain and defeat a Dragon after all; it was a book that was also a game! Fortunately, the kid loves books AND games, so the prospect of having both-in-one just about made up for the disappointment of not getting to see a Dragon. After reading the rules, the kid did something all little children do: He rebelled, to the degree where his Skill, Stamina and Luck were all at their highest possible scores. He eventually ended up getting terribly lost in a maze within the mountain, in the end quite relieved when a Minotaur skewered him like a kebab.

2002. The kid, now 2 years wiser (Having spent most of his time becoming the very best, like no one ever was) finds a newer copy of the book he bought back on the turn of the millennium. To his delight, it is now part of a series, with more excitingly-named titles such as The Citadel of Chaos to relieve his parents of more of their cash. Being a naive youngster, the kid is blissfully unaware that there has previously been over 50 other titles in the series; besides, why would he want 'nasty' old looking books when there was now a nice glossy modern 'cool' cover on The Warlock of Firetop Mountain? At this point, a TARDIS materialises inside the Waterstones the kid is currently browsing in, and a late-teen youth steps out, a look of sheer horror on his face. The kid vaguely recognises this new face, in fact, if it weren't for the lack of freckles and the fact this guy's hair was proper blonde, not strawberry blonde, the kid would have easily mistaken this guy for a relative of some sort.

The guy runs up to the kid screaming. The kid tells him to quieten his voice, as shouting was impolite. (Don't you just love kids?) Asking what the guy wants, the kid then tells him that he's going to buy this new version of Warlock and give his old second-hand (Or should it be third-hand?) copy to a charity shop, doing 'the right thing'. The guy frantically pleads with the kid not to do this, as giving away that older book will be something he comes to deeply regret when he's older. Naturally, as all good kids do, the kid completely ignores the exasperated guy's pleas. Realising he's failed, the guy dejectedly trots back to his TARDIS, to head back to the Shadow Proclamation and report his failure. As he departs, he realises his mistake - the kid was totally unfascinated by the TARDIS as he would not even know what one was until early 2005...

Ah, if only the kid knew the value of first editions when he was 9...

So, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, we meet again. The above is a rather drawn out tale of how I acquired my first ever Fighting Fantasy book, not to mention how I quite literally threw away my first edition copy of Warlock. Possibly the most famous of all the FF books, it is #1 in the Puffin series and also #1 in both Wizard series. Written by both Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson (And it shows, there's a clear difference in writing style throughout this book), Warlock is illustrated by Russ Nicholson on the inside and either Martin McKenna or Peter Andrew Jones on the cover, depending on the edition. Martin did the cover for both of the Wizard series' entries, (Published in 2002 and 2009 respectively) whilst Peter did the cover for the Puffin edition, (Originally released in 1982) which was also re-used for the special hard cover 25th FF anniversary book. (I'll let you work out when that was published!) Got that? Trust me, there's far more confusing things in the world! Just for a laugh, put down that book you're holding, that cup of tea, close that browser with decidedly risqué content, and try some mathematical Integration. It makes surviving Deathtrap Dungeon seem like a stroll in the.. er, dungeon.
Right class, pay attention...

Anyway, I'm digressing. I'm writing this just after finishing my last A level exam and can't shake off the feeling of impending doom that surrounds how bad it went. I happen to own 3 copies of Warlock; Both Wizard editions and the 25th special. I decided to use the newest Wizard copy for my playthrough, for the simple reason that these new editions are slightly larger, which means all the illustrations are that little bit bigger. For the most part, this is a good thing, allowing the smaller details of the drawings to be seen better. Right, the rules. Being the first FF book, the rules are the basic standard. This means I have my usual 3 stat rolls, with 10 provisions, and a potion of my choice out of Skill, Stamina and Luck. It is now I spot an interesting new feature with the second Wizard series - The option of choosing a pre-determined character with a name, stats, potion and (albeit brief) backstory. This is pretty nice, although even names as epic as Vignor Firestorm, Haldar Eriksson and Ophelia Lapwing aren't enough to convince me to pick one of them. I assume the latter has been added to keep FF as Unisex as possible, although it must be noted I am yet to find a single member of the fairer sex who enjoys taking a trip to Allansia. More curiosity - All of the pre-determined characters have only 6 provisions for some reason. My character shall be happy with 10. Choosing a vibrant set of fluorescent blue dice to determine my fate, I eagerly lob them across the room to roll my stats.

Skill 11, Stamina 19 and Luck 7. It seems I just can't buy luck, two books in a row with the worst roll for it. But wait! I may not be able to buy it, but I CAN drink it! The potion of Fortune will not only take me back to my initial score, but also add 1 to it with each swig, of which I get two. Happy days. Time for the introduction; the starter course that gives you a little taste of who you are and why you're doing whatever it is the book gets you doing. Ah. Steve and Ian haven't exactly come up with an ambitious tale here; basically you're a greedy bastard who wants gold, and have heard of rumours that the Warlock keeps a chest full of the stuff deep within his lair inside Firetop Mountain. There's got to be an easier way to make some money, surely??!?!! Now all that was left was to name my character. Steve Livingstone or Ian Jackson? Decisions decisions...
Gentlemen, I command you to fight to
the death for the honour of naming my character.

Some half an hour and many internal debates later, I tossed a coin. Ian Jackson it is. Turning to paragraph 1, I am informed that Ian has just finished a 2 day hike. Pfft, not even a bead of sweat on me, this hiking business is a piece of cake! Lighting my lantern, I enter the cave face in front of me, and enter the mountain. Ah, a 'Go West or Go East' choice. This reminds me why my 7 year-old self got so frustrated with Warlock; most kids don't have the patience to get into the intricacies of drawing a map to help them out. I toss a coin again; West it is. A Goblin sentry guard is asleep on the job (Tsk, just can't get the staff, can you Zagor?) Remarkably for a Luck of 7, I remain lucky and don't ruin the Goblin's dreams of... whatever a Goblin dreams of. I like to think it might involve exploding Sheep. Just along the path, I come across a door, and open it, as you do. I've found the guard's restroom, complete with another sleeping Goblin! Man, these guys are lazy buggers. Zagor should invest in some more exotic guards, like those exploding sheep the current guards dream of. It'd be like having a wolf in sheep's clothing, only without the wolf, which surely makes it even more fool-proof. Somehow passing a luck test with only luck 6 (These fluorescent blue dice are awesome!) I steal a box with a mouse and a single gold coin in. Ian releases the mouse, which is a pity as peaceful company is hard to come by in any FF book. However, pleasingly freeing this mouse gets me 2 luck points back, returning me to my not-so-gargantuan starting stat of 7. 

Open me, I dare you. 

Another door. Ian and Steve hadn't got inventive with their writing yet, which is understandable, as this is their first effort. Doors are always just screaming to be opened, so I oblige. Another box.  Hmm. This is more tedious than I recall Warlock being this early on. Fortunately, I am instantly thrust into action by opening this box, as a small Snake jumps out and tries to bite me. After how this quest has started, I am almost overcome with joy at being attacked! Almost sadly, the Snake offers next to no resistance, and I'm left alone in a mountain with a box in my hand again. Ooh, what's this? A key is in the bottom of the box, inscribed with the number 99. Even if I hadn't played Warlock before, I'd assume this was important. As it is, I vaguely remember needing 3 such numbered keys to open Zagor's chest of wonders, (Treasure chest that is, I doubt his actual chest is particularly wondrous) so this seems like a good start. You'll never believe what Ian stumbled across next!...

Ok, I lied. It's another door. This door comes with an interesting description of a terrible racket coming from within, though. Despite this, I decide that curiosity shall be the death of me eventually and open it. Alohomora would come in pretty handy right now. Inside are 2 drunk and decidedly un-jolly Orcs. Owing to their intoxicated state, they proved as much trouble as that Snake. Still, I feel a bit guilty killing Orcs who were just enjoying themselves, but hey; Nobody wins an FF book by playing the nice guy! I clean my sword of the green blood that has emerged on it during my scuffle; Got to have some standards of cleaning, right? Then I notice a box. At this point I imagine Steve and Ian are laughing at me, being foolish enough to stumble across every door and box there is. Ah, I remember this too. Farrigo Di Maggio's spell of beating Dragons. I forget exactly what it does, but I do remember it being useful. Ian Jackson then breaks the monotony of finding doors and opening them by coming to a junction in the cave. This time I go east.

And they say that old people are scared of the young...
And then, I go North. Unfortunately I cannot give much description beyond this, as this isn't the most detailed FF book. I find a door with a terrible stench behind it, rather stupidly opening it. An old guy charges at me weilding a wooden chair leg. Realising bad karma will surely befall me if I run the git through, I try to calm him down. Amusingly, Ian apparently shouts 'YOU ARE FREED OLD MAN!' in a quite un-stealthily loud booming voice. The old guy loves me, tells me to pull the right lever at a portcullis, to be polite to the boatman and then departs to see the world again. I doubt he got far; if I ever get out of here I anticipate seeing his mutilated corpse somewhere near a door or a box. Speaking of which, I come across yet another door, but I fancy a change.  I leave this one and wander onwards. Before long I come to that portcullis the old guy mentioned. Trusting his judgement, I pull the right lever.

Hooray! The portcullis opens, and I advance to level 2. (In my mind I do at least) A wooden bench invites me to rest, which I would if I weren't already at full stamina. Not much has happened yet and I feel quite safe  albeit lost. Happily, this soon changes due to a lack of free will in a choice. This time I open a door without being given the option and am rudely attacked by a Barbarian. He proves my most challenging opponent yet by virtue of actually wounding me, albeit only once. In his room he has a wooden mallet which I pick up in the hope I get the option to play Croquet at some point later on. At last this adventure was starting to get some variation; I came across a room with ornate marble flooring and some paintings. Not being able to tell the difference between a Monet and a Van Gogh I neglect to stay and study the paintings. Ian then has one of his provisions, as his Pork Pie provision is starting to go a bit green. (That and the fact eating a provision will finally have an effect!) Next up is an apparently awkward room to walk across, although I'm unsure as to why. Rope. Rope is one of the eternally useful objects in the FF world, always coming to the aid of an adventurer at some point.

Do not be fooled by it's commonplace
appearance; this is some deadly shit.
Not this fucking rope though. This rope tries to strangle me and very nearly succeeds in doing so due to my poor luck (Somehow pass with luck 6 after failing the first time - how am I doing this?!) Recovering from nearly dying a pretty embarrassing death, Ian comes to an underground river. I could ring the bell and speak to the boatman, but unfortunately there's a note saying passage across will cost 2 gold pieces. Bugger. I doubt even being civil towards him could earn me a summer half-price discount, so I decided against it. I could try swimming, but nothing good ever comes of swimming in black murky water in underground caves, so a rickety old bridge it is. Playing a deadly game of roulette in which I must avoid rolling a 6, I traverse the bridge. Happily I survive and make it to the other side. A giant timber door is in front of me which just needed to be opened. I do so, only to be knocked out as soon as I do by a gang of Zombies. Well, it's certainly more original than being robbed by a gang of youths. (Or could these be Zombie youths? I wonder...) Quite bizarrely, these Zombies do not eat my brains but let me come around, all whilst only staring at me do so. This is somewhat un-nerving, I do not like Zombies that behave unstereotypically! For this reason, Ian makes a run for the door. To my vast enjoyment, the Zombies now start behaving properly, block my exit and try to give me a severe headache with their impressive variety of weapons. I am forced to defend myself from club, pick, scythe and axe.

Worry no longer, I have found the Rum.
These Zombies sure are an odd bunch. Despite the fact they could easily overwhelm me by all attacking at once, they form an orderly queue and are duly decapitated one by one. I can't quite put my finger on why, but imagining this battle makes me smile quite alot. Evidently the Maze of Zagor which I've barely started has sent me loopy already! Finishing the fight, Ian decides to go check out some barrels lurking in the corner. They don't actually lurk of course, this book lacks the inventive monsters such as killer barrels. No, these barrels have something far more pleasurable in them. RUM! To quote the book 'By golly, it's good!'. Agreed. This rum gives me 6 stamina and 1 luck too, curiously making it far better for my health than a good meal from my provisions. Do I detect a hidden subliminal message here?!? Next up in the bizarre enjambment of rooms is a crypt. Searching the room, predictably I get beset by a Vampire. Rather unpredictably, whilst using my wooden mallet and stakes to make a cross to scare him, I trip and drop my stake. What follows is one of the most amusing paragraphs I've read in an FF book. To quote the book 'As luck would have it, the stake flies forward and plunges into the shrieking creature.' I killed the Vampire without doing anything! I honestly don't know why Van Helsing makes it look so hard....

Searching the rest of the crypt, I find a book about... something; there is no indication as to its contents. I also find 30 gold pieces and am sorely tempted to swim back across the lake to pay the Boatman. Oh yes, and a Y-shaped stick. For the 4th time in as many minutes I find myself smiling at the absurdity of something. Ian and Steve have done a good job of keeping the player amused while they get hopelessly lost. Following a series of corridors I 'Cautiously descend the stairs...' The presence of ellipsis does a surprisingly good job of building tension (at least for me) so kudos to Ian/Steve for putting that in. I have no idea who wrote that particular paragraph. Suddenly that freckled kid materialises in my living room, screaming at me that the next room has 3 bodies on the floor, one of whom is a Ghoul who will try and eat me. Thanking my younger self for remembering this, I tiptoe through the room. The book tries to inflict me with self-doubt, offering me another chance to check the bodies. Cruel mind trick book, very cruel. Not falling for it, I press on.

What follows is a series of corridors and Ian Jackson getting himself hopelessly lost. Although, unlike me, I imagine he wasn't amused by this but rather pissed off. On numerous occasions I am asked whether I wish to check for secret passages, but something makes me decide I can solve this maze without doing so. Eventually I stumble across some Dwarves playing cards, who give me directions. I am as convinced by this as I am by the argument that Jimmy Carr is actually funny, so do not bother to take note of them. I once again wander around various corridors, finding not even a gnat to excite myself with. After a decidedly not-short while, I find the room with The Minotaur in that befell my younger self all these years ago. This time, it's personal! This time, I kill the bastard. Hooray! Turns out he was guarding a key numbered 111, which I happily pocket.

3 Hours later...
                        I find a cave I haven't been in before with a Dragon. Joy unconfined! Using my Dragonfire spell, I leave the Dragon squealing in agony whilst I strut past it feeling like a total bad-ass. I then come across an old man sitting with his cards, who is quite blatantly Zagor. However, I decide to let Ian use a tactful approach and greet him courteously. He's not buying it though, and fixes me with a fierce glare. Gulp.
I've been expecting you, Mr Bond...

Feeling lucky (And being so) I recall the villager's tales of the Warlock's cards and the power they give him. Feeling rather sadistic, I gleefully set them alight with my lantern while watching Zagor slowly grow weak before my very eyes. (Insert evil laugh here) Unfortunately, he still has enough strength to fight, so we enter an epic duel. Well, I wish it was epic. The weakened Zagor only managed to land a single blow on Ian Jackson. I then find the Warlock's chest of wonders, only to have my adventure come to an end because I only have 2 keys, and require 3. Bugger. The book informs me I sit on the chest balling my eyes out. Oh grow up! I'd much rather die an honourable death, or even turn into a Giant Scorpion. Either is a better alternative to the lame end I had. I bet Steve Livingstone would have found all 3 keys...

Although I may seem rather grumpy throughout the above playthrough, I did enjoy Warlock. It was essentially a classic dungeon crawl, with all the frustration and jubilation when you eventually find your way out. My journey through the book was as follows:

I visited 104 DIFFERENT paragraphs, so over 25% of the lot, which isn't bad. I had a few fights:
Snake - Skill: 5 Stamina: 2
First Orc - Skill: 5 Stamina: 4
Second Orc - Skill: 5 Stamina: 3
Barbarian - Skill: 7 Stamina: 6
Zombie - Skill: 7 Stamina: 6
Zombie with Scythe - Skill: 6 Stamina: 6
Zombie with Pick - Skill: 6 Stamina: 6
Zombie with Axe - Skill: 6 Stamina: 5
Minotaur - Skill: 9 Stamina: 9
Warlock - Skill: 7 Stamina: 12

Nothing ridiculously nasty at all, a quick glance through the book reveals there are no Skill 12 monsters at all. Could this be the only FF book without one? Right, it's time for...


This time Google spares you all
my shocking photography.

Illustrations: All 3 covers I own are pretty interesting, with the Warlock either looking menacing or deceptively peaceful on them. The interior illustrations have a slight 'old' feel to them, if that actually makes any sense. They're not flash in any way, but they have that classic feel which only added to my nostalgic feel whilst playing through Warlock. Most of them are very nice, with my favourite this time being the Dragon. 8/10

Monsters/other NPC encounters: There are very few friendly NPC's in this, the only ones I found being those Dwarves who gave me directions. (I wonder whether they were right?) I expect the Boatman may have been nice, but without being able to afford his services I doubt he would have been too generous. The monsters feel like a guided tour of all the classic fantasy creatures; there's Skeletons, Zombies, Vampires, Goblins, evil Wizards, a Minotaur and even a Dragon. There are no real unique monsters that are particularly eye-catching, but I think Ian and Steve did a good job of including all the classics they did. 6/10

Storyline/Plot: Hah. There is none. You're an adventurer searching a mountain filled with evil creatures owned by an evil Wizard for a pot of gold. That's basically it. There is barely any character development within, although perhaps it is better for Zagor's first appearance to keep him as mysterious as possible. 2/10

Difficulty: I think because it was the first one, Ian and Steve were keen not to put people off by putting in ridiculous item hunts or monsters who'd kill you if you hadn't rolled amazing stats. Ok, I missed a key somewhere (A search through my 25th anniversary copy reveals I was close - Just before meeting the Barbarian I should've found a room with an Iron Cyclops in) but at no point did I feel I was going to die on the next paragraph. That Iron Cyclops had 10 skill, so with a few lucky dice rolls this can quite possibly be done with the weakest initial scores. 3/10

Seal of Approval?: It's the original. It's not the best. But Warlock has that real nostalgic feel to it, even if it is probably because it was my first FF book. Ian and Steve hadn't reached their best yet, as some of the paragraphs are very short with little or no description, but despite the fact that when you rip this book down to it's bare bones there's not much there, Warlock is an enjoyable dungeon crawl. Therefore I tentatively decide it just about gets the seal of approval. Just.
Oh god it's back...
Paperwork time. Sorry this one took a while, now all my exams are done I hope to get through blog entries with a little better pace. I would highly recommend you all to check out Marsten's rather excellent FF playthrough blog, who has beaten me by a couple of hours into getting his Warlock playthrough up, complete with humour and an equally relevant reference to the film Labyrinth. I also recommend you all watch that; David Bowie is on top form. My next FF book will be Forest of Doom, which is another one my younger self played. I've chosen it partly because if it's like I remember, that darned seal will be absent from my next post! The last thing I need to give is a moral for life learnt from playing through Warlock. I didn't learn too much this time round, but this is rather important I feel: Rum is very beneficial to one's health, even in copious amounts. A quick disclaimer - I am in no way responsible for any unfortunate incidents involving my readers and Rum. Bye for now!

Friday, 15 June 2012

Most excellent news Sir!

Mixing the new and retro - nice!
It's official. To the right is the cover for the new FF book coming out in August. As you can see, it's a pretty good looking cover, but for me personally the best bit is the (albeit slightly redesigned) classic FF logo in the bottom right. The official Fighting Fantasy website also informs me Ian has been able to get Wizard to put a green spine on it. Owing to not being alive through most of the Puffin run, I can't claim excitement to the nostalgic feel this will bring to some, although I imagine this will have some people foaming at the mouth. (The good kind involving excitement, not the first stage of rabies or transforming into one of the Undead) Apparently the artist is Greg Staples, whom Judge Dredd fans will be familiar with. Ian appears to be aiming at enticing both new and old FF fans with this cover, an aim I think will be well achieved. The official website also has a few of the interior illustrations up, which are quite frankly excellent. My only hope is that Ian has resisted the urge to include a long-lost relative of Razaak in  the 30th anniversary special, with a similarly long and ridiculously hard item hunt to defeat him. Saying that, everything about this book so far seems top notch, and its a good job I have plenty of other FF books to play through to help make the wait for this pass quicker.

Hopefully Blood of the Zombies will be the first of many new FF books to hit the shelves in coming years, with hopefully a new Dinosaur epic being one of them. (I can dream, right?) Although this is more of an 'Eek,   this is amazing' post rather than a full-blooded epic like my last one, I still feel I can't leave without the traditional moral for life. It's rather simple really - August is a most excellent month. Well, it is! A new challenging FF book and it also happens to be my birthday then. Expect The Warlock of Firetop Mountain  to be up at some point next week, but until then, Ciao.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Problem of Evil (Portal of Evil playthrough)

The world would be a better place if
everyone had a pet Dinosaur.
What's this? A religious debate? Nope, it's my first FF playthrough! Portal of Evil is book #37 in the original Puffin series, and is not one of the ones that has been republished in the Wizard series. The cover of my copy is exactly the one you see to the right, with the gold foil on the 'Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone present' banner. The book informs me it was first published in 1989, with the adventure penned by Peter Darvill-Evans and the Illustrations drawn by Alan Langford. (Not the cover illustration though; that's drawn by David Gallagher. It seems many of the cover illustrators are different from those who illustrate the FF books' interiors.)

The rules are fairly standard FF fare; the usual rolls for skill, stamina and luck, with no additional stat boxes, so at least I wouldn't have too many things to keep track of on my first adventure. One thing worth noting though is a very brief statement at the start of the rules easily missed that states you start with 2 Provisions. Not that 2 meals will get you very far, but it's better than eating dirt I suppose. You also spend your last 2 gold coins in the introduction to buy the colour map reproduced on the inside of the front cover, which as far as I can tell is of no real use to you during the adventure, so I felt like asking the merchant I bought it off for a refund so I could have some Gold back.

I wonder whether all gold is
honey-crunchin' good... 
I needn't have worried. My quest starts with me looking for a mine owner named Gloten, who is in need of a warrior to find out what has happened to his miners and their families. Suffice to say that these lands had previously been untarnished by human hands until recently, when a few people stuck gold. Soon, a Gold rush struck the lands, and all sorts of greedy humans came to chance their luck at getting rich quick. I was beginning to wonder why I wasn't allowed to become a gold prospector instead of going on a dangerous quest looking for lost miners. Wait, what's that? While mining somebody found a weird portal exuding an evil aura, and now there's dinosaurs and other supposedly extinct creatures roaming the lands? Oh bugger. Quickly ditching my pipe dream of mining my way to glory, I ditched my pickaxe and armed myself with a sword, deciding perhaps Gloten's quest would be a more suitable path to survival. The introduction then tells me Gloten is promising the successful warrior their weight in gold. Making a mental note that my warrior is a former Sumo Wrestler, I rolled my stats.

Hmm. Skill - 9. Stamina - 17. Luck - 7. This was going to go fantastically bad. I decided maybe my former sumo wrestler had some mining heritage in him, and affectionately named him Klondike Pete. Turning to paragraph 1, I'm loving Portal of Evil already. A dinosaur straight away! Except this dinosaur is badly wounded, and has an Elf woman as a companion. It then proceeded to blow my mind by talking to me in perfect English. I like to think it was rather eloquent, kinda Hugh Grant-esque. Anyway, some soldiers arrived and it became apparent they were the bastards who'd injured poor Hugh. I was given the option of standing back, grabbing some popcorn and watching the fight unfold before me, or jumping to the aid of the Elf and the Dinosaur. Despite my average skill, I decided to do the chivalrous thing and assist the Elf, not to mention it'd be blasphemy to stand back and allow Hugh Grant to meet a bloody end. Despite only having a measly skill of 5 (Some soldier that is), Klondike was too slow to avoid being hit once. Injuring the soldier a bit, he eventually fled, allowing me to complete a life-long ambition by holding a conversation with a Spinosaurus. It told me it was once an Elf, and had been captured by cursed Slave Warriors and put through the Portal, whereupon it transformed into a Dinosaur. Ok then... This was some major shit going down. Hugh finished by telling me to find Gartax, who was trying to organise a resistance of some sort.
Possibly the best talking Dinosaur there's never been.

I came across a man being attacked by what seems to be a giant Ostrich of some sort. I foolishly decided to once again come to the aid of the wounded party. Except he's not. The man is working with the Ostrich, and now I'm his prisoner. Fucking fantastic. I surrender, and tell the man the truth, that I'm here in response to Gloten's appeal for sumo wrestlers (sorry, warriors) to come and vanquish the mysterious portal. The man then drops his guard - turns out he is the very Gartax I've been looking for! He tells me the easy way to get Gloten to help me is challenge him to a pickaxe-handle fight and lose. Yay! I get to fulfil Klondike's dreams of wielding a pickaxe after all! He then tells me of a mysterious wizard who might have some idea what's going on to the south. I offer to stay and help Gartax defend his camp, and get a delicious 4 stamina meal as a reward. It transpires that these Slave Warriors who attack us were formerly Goblins and miners subjected to the portal, yet these ones did not reach God mode and transform into Dinosaurs. Expecting a series of fights, I instead get a paragraph detailing the fight where I am told many die from both sides but I 'come through without a scratch'. Hooray! I may have luck of 7 but I can still get lucky through a random fluky paragraph. I search the bodies of the Slave Warriors, and relieve him of his talisman around his neck. Neglecting to wear the talisman myself (Not falling for that one) I return to Gartax's camp.

Gartax has nothing more to say to me, and gives me a parting gift of 5 provisions before I set off into the forest. I decide searching for this Wizard sounds like a plan, and head south towards a stream. I sneak past a cave (I passed a luck test, Klondike is the luckiest luck 7 guy ever!) and come across a hut. A Dwarf and a Parrot greet me, whereupon he announces himself as the boatman. The Dwarf, not the Parrot. (I think it lacks the opposable thumbs required to row a boat.) He wants no money, but instead a meal in return for passage downriver. Giving up some of Gartax's delicious food, I take a boat and sail downriver. Ignoring the opportunity to investigate ripples in the water to the east (again, not falling for that one) I continue onwards.

I am a Mole and I live in a... Cellar?
Eventually it gets dark, and Klondike heads to a derelict tower apparently looking for shelter. Screw shelter, a tower screams Wizard to me. I go into the cellar, looking for some Dutch courage to aid me. Instead, I find a mole with a star on its head. Throwing rotten vegetables at it, I flee the cellar and ascend to the next level of the tower. I find some form of magical ladder (Wizard tower - knew it) and attempt to climb it, which burns me before solidifying. Reaching the top of the tower, I can't hide my disappointment at finding no Wizard. Unfortunately, I do find a nest, and a decidedly pissed-off Pterandon which proceeds to try and swallow me whole. Fortunately, it can't fight for shit, and I easily slay it. I steal its egg, hoping I can trade it for something awesome later, and 10 gold pieces, my first gold of the entire adventure. I am then forced to eat food to avoid losing stamina. (It says I must eat or lose 4 stamina, yet doesn't say whether I gain the usual stamina for eating it. I assume I don't.) Sadly, when Klondike wakes up in the morning there is no Wizard greeting him, so I assume the tower was indeed merely a derelict tower. How unstereotypical!

Trekking through the forest, I am approached by 5 'southerners' on ponies. Sensing they're sissies by virtue of choosing to ride ponies as opposed to horses, I let them come to me. Their description now extends to 'dark-skinned southerners' who promptly announce their aim to rob me blind as they are bandits. Hmm, no racial stereotypes here then... Realising my 9 skill is unlikely to outfight 5 of them, I empty my backpack for them. I enter a game of gambling with them over my gold, which I promptly lose. Bugger. Left with a sultry gold piece, I shed a brief tear and go onwards. A silhouette asks me to throw it a single gold piece (how highly conveinient I have one left, eh?) and I oblige. Informing the silhouette I am looking for a Wizard, I am given a riddle. Fortunately, the riddle's a piece of cake (Shadow was the answer) and I am taken via boat to a coracle.

Somewhat suspicious of the Wizard, Klondike decides to dispose of his sword onto a heap of fellow swords before saying hello. A shrewd move that loses me a massive 4 Skill. Fucking fantastic. I come across a small man and am told I can either ask him whether he's a Wizard, or throw a pebble at him. Just about containing my childish urges to do the latter, I decide to be civil. He gives me some Zombie-repellent ring, a sword that can turn white-hot (skill back to 9, phew) and then I make him scream by showing him my talisman I've had loitering in my bag for ages. The Wizard does some research - to avoid being turned into a Dinosaur I need 2 animals and a fuck-load of torches. Despite being sorely tempted to get turned into a Dinosaur, Klondike tells the Wizard he will find these items. Before leaving me, the Wizard takes me on a magical horse ride to a village, and gives me some gold.

This would have been a most pathetic end.
I sleep in an inn, and find some tournament going on, organised by Gloten. Ah, now I can have that pickaxe handle fight! Or not. I have to partake in this tournament first. Blindfolded, the first test involves something slimy with tentacles being put on my face. Nice... Resisting the urge to pull my blindfold off and attack the thing, It eventually relaxes and slides off, leaving me with a decidedly sticky visage. But hey, apparently I passed, with only the loss of salt to worry about. Easily passing another riddle involving coins, I progress to the final stage; duelling my fellow entries. However, I am given the opportunity to challenge Gloten to that fabled pickaxe handle duel, and gleefully oblige. Gloten's a hard bastard though, and relieves me of most of my stamina, so I yield without needing to not try hard. Keeping with the chivalry I've shown so far, I commend him on his fighting abilities, and in return get taken to his home and given a battered old hunting horn. The following morning, Klondike gets truly blessed - being told you can restore all your stats to their initial level is the closest thing FF comes to giving a player a Christmas present. 10 gold, a potion of 'true-seeing', and 5 extra provisions didn't go a miss either.

Bidding everyone farewell, I strode off into a forest, and was ambushed by a Struthiomimus. (Nope, I can't pronounce it either) Being unable to deal it any pain due to an impeccable run of rolling 1's for my attack strength, I was more than glad to end the fight after 3 attack rounds. The unpronounceable's owner then turns up, and my ring of zombie-repelling saves me from having to fight him too. Klondike then comes to an abandoned village which quickly becomes the opposite. Some of the Margrave's men find me, march me somewhere and ask me if I have a warrant. Which I do, having got one for winning the tournament. They apologise as I shout at them for being so abusive towards me beforehand, and give me a meal. (You'd think I was a chicken, the way everyone seems to be giving me food everytime I meet them) In the village I find a rope and a bundle of torches (Hello, these wouldn't be the same fuck-load of torches needed to pass through the portal would they?) Finding nothing else exciting, I promptly sod off back into the forest.

Shortly down the path I come across another rope-ladder, and climb it (as you do). I am greeted by some form of Dryad called Lignia. She's mightily pissed I have a sword, and insists I give up my weapon for a bit and perform some manual labour (Damn community service!). I oblige, as Dryads can be fickle creatures. As a reward, she lectures me, gives me my sword back, and 2 birds; one blue, one red (2 creatures, this seems to be going well!). I leave Lignia, and get set on almost instantly by Wood Elves, although my potion of true-seeing tells me they're actually Slave Warriors! Gulp. I go along with them to their hut, pretending I don't know who they are. Or at least, the book tells me I do. I'd have far prefered to have got the fuck out of there, but that option didn't exist, much to the annoyance of my belief in free will. Worse still, I can't go out the front door, as some stupid riddle-locked door with a riddle that this time beats me prevents me from doing so.

Isn't my son just adorable?!
Thank god I had some rope. On my descent, I find a half-converted slave warrior, remove his talisman of doom and he repays me by beating up the guard. Hooray! This is all going FAR too well. I go towards a mine, and suddenly I give birth to a baby Pterosaur! Well, the egg I'd forgotten about did anyway. Feeling a sense of fatherly responsibility, I feed it, and have my decision immediately vindicated as it chases away some Slave Warriors at the cave entrance. As I wander through the mine, I find first a torch and then the Portal itself. The book proceeds to ask me if I happen to have any Igneolite on me. (I don't, and get a horrible sense of dread I needed it) Giving in to the urge to become a Dinosaur, the book informs me I step through the Portal. My ring of Zombie-warding protects me from the first attack, but even my birds of many colours (well, two) do not save me from the second, as I fail my first-ever test of skill in the entire book. I pass out, and awaken as a Giant Scorpion. Well, if you're gonna go, better to go out in style!

Despite ending my life as a scorpion, it was an extremely disappointing ending to my life as Klondike Pete. I'd saved Hugh Grant from certain death, given birth, only to have it all go skywards and turn into an arachnid. The Samaritans have nothing on this shit. I'd really been enjoying Portal of Evil; it was an interesting concept and I also felt I was pretty much on the right path all the way through. In my entire run I only had 4 fights, and 2 tests of stats (One for luck, one for skill) My Journey through the book was as follows:
That means I read 107 of the 400 paragraphs, so I must've been near the end, which would make sense as I found the Portal I was looking for. However, my only fights were:
Soldier - Skill: 5 Stamina: 8
Pterandon - Skill: 5 Stamina: 8
Gloten - Skill: 9 Stamina: 16
Struthiomimus - Skill: 9 Stamina: 12

Nothing particularly horrible there, but my dice meant the last two hurt Klondike quite a bit. Anyway, it's time for......


My awful photography skills really don't do this
illustration justice. Honest!

Illustrations: Well, the cover was nice if not spectacular. The interior illustrations were very good, with my favourite being the Pterandon whose nest I so rudely disturbed. So yeah, I was mightily impressed really. 9/10

Monsters/other NPC encounters: This book had more NPC's to talk with than most FF books I remember, which I think is a good thing. It gives a different depth to the story, and helps flesh out the plot too. Being fascinated by Dinosaurs as I am, I'm not afraid to be biased here due to the sheer volume of Dinosaurs in this book. (I checked, there were many encounters with dinos I avoided in my playthrough) Again, fairly impressed here. 8/10

Storyline/Plot: It made sense. Some FF books have little sense of plot or purpose, just like Jack Sparrow's third adventure. This one had both plot and purpose. The concept of a Portal of pure evil was interesting, although was the Portal the book's main villain? The Wizard spoke of a Warlord of the Portal but I found no evidence of one. If this was a novel, it would have been interesting. Not the best story, but certainly not the worst. 7/10.

Difficulty: I didn't complete it, but I wasn't expecting to. In fact, for the best part I found the whole adventure rather easy. I may have fluked my way along the best route, but appeared to be finding all the items I was needing (except maybe that Igneolite) at all the right times. The fights were rather few and easy, and there were few tests of stats. Saying that, I died by failing the only skill test I found, but given my distinctly average stats I'll go out on a limb (Hey, I have plenty to waste now) and say you could perhaps even win this one with the weakest initial rolls. 4/10.

Seal of approval?: I love Dinosaurs, in case you hadn't guessed. Therefore a level of bias is bound to be applied when judging this book. But even throwing bias aside like that hand-knitted jumper by your Grandma that you never want to wear in public, this was a good FF book. I've really enjoyed devoting my Thursday to playing this, taking me back to the good old days of my pre-teen youth where I'd play with nigh-invincible stats. (although not as obscure as those used by my most-hated person in the world) So yes, I failed, but Portal of Evil gets the Galactrix seal of approval.

Admit it - you weren't expecting to see a fluffy
Seal in a blog about Fighting Fantasy.

Wow. This blog entry is massive with a capital M. If anybody has bothered to actually read all of this, feedback would be greatly appreciated. Is this too long? I doubt I'll get this far through a book on all my attempts, so future entries may not be quite so long. Is there anything you feel is missing from this? (HA. I doubt it.) Is the inclusion of a fluffy Seal a massive NO in a blog about killing things with sharp objects? I appreciate all feedback. Seeing how this took me over 10 hours, I will probably be waiting till after the weekend before my next playthrough. I've decided on The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. I know it's a generic choice, but it was my first ever FF book, and I remember it being annoying but not too challenging. Oh, one last thing before I go. The moral of this story. Greed shall consume all, and turn thee into a Dinosaur. I think that's a powerful life story for us all.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Pen is NOT mightier than the Sword

For those of you expecting an exciting playthrough of Portal of Evil, you'll have to wait just a bit longer, I'm going to be doing that tomorrow or Friday depending on how my Maths revision goes. Instead, this quick update is devoted to a rant about a fairly useless saying. Despite the Joker's best efforts to prove otherwise, (and yes I am aware it's a pencil; it is still a writing implement) claiming that a pen is mightier than a sword is pure bollocks. This especially applies to the world of Fighting Fantasy; I know as a fantasy series it is designed to take us to amazing places and all, but the day I can slay Balthus Dire by throwing a pen at his face is the day I stop playing FF!

What item could take you up to Skill 24 anyway?
I doubt even the Elder Wand could make you THAT badass!
On that note, I understand by the nature of FF books that used copies may have some notes in pencil on the adventure sheet, but at least these can be rubbed out easily if they are unwanted (although the merit of making your own adventure sheet on A4 is very underrated). So when my copy of Island of the Undead arrived through the post, I was expecting perhaps a few pencil marks here and there, but I was in no way prepared for the sheer ineptitude of the previous owner using a pen to fill in their adventure sheet. What kinda prat writes in a book with pen, preventing not only him or herself from using that adventure sheet again, but also buggering it up for future owners (i.e ME). To make matters worse, this same previous owner appears to be completely unaware of the rules, as their warrior has a mammoth 24 skill, which would make them by far the most skilful inhabitant of the entire Fighting Fantasy universe. Yeah, perhaps not... I hope the previous owner reached their end by passing a Skill test they had to fail in order to survive, in a similar vein to an encounter I recall in one of the visits to Deathtrap Dungeon. I shall pretend they did anyhow, the thought gives me a grin like the Cheshire cat.

Anyway, rant over. I shall bottle my anger at today's happenings, and unleash it upon the Portal of Evil in the most-likely vain hope it will improve my chances. One thing I have decided on is an extra feature for all my playthroughs: at the end of each post shall be a moral for life learned through the adventure, and I shall start with this post. The moral of this story is simple: He who arms himself with a pen is far more dead than he who arms himself with a sword. Hey, I didn't say they had to be clever, philosophical morals did I?!!?!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

First steps

Right, if you happen to have had the misfortune to stumble across my blog, I'm reckoning there's a good chance you are a Fighting Fantasy fan. If, however, that is not the case, then welcome anyway. I shall either convert you to the cult of Zagor or smite you down in hellfire. Ok, I may be exaggerating, but seriously, I hope to make this series of reports on my various adventures throughout the world of Allansia and beyond as entertaining as possible, so if it's not, feel free to bombard me with abuse telling me how to do it better, such as 'The cheese! Why didn't you use the fucking cheese!' Ah yes, perhaps I should've said at the beginning. I am not going to hold back with my language in this; I feel if I was really going through a dungeon filled with various horrible denizens, I would not be saying 'God bless my soul' whenever I came across a group of demon with razor-sharp claws that had just added me to its 'to slaughter' list. For those who do not know, this year is the 30th anniversary of the very first Fighting Fantasy book, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. This fact is kinda why I've decided to write this blog, along with a pathetic reasoning that writing this will help embellish my creative writing skills for when I start my Uni course.
30 Years of having the crap beaten out of you by millions
of people worldwide can really anger one.

I suppose my main inspiration for starting this blog must lie with the three blogs to the right, which I have unashamedly stolen the idea for this one from. However, I can guarantee that they will be of much greater quality than this, as to be honest I still don't really know what I'm doing yet! They are all highly amusing and full of humour, which, whilst I will hope mine will be similar to it that vein, I am going to endeavour to keep mine as original as possible so I do not not get hunted down and eaten by any copyright demons that happen to be lurking on the next reference. My current vision for how each playthrough will be laid out is as such:

  • Introduction - The synopsis for the book I'm attempting, stats for my warrior, etc.
  • The Quest - A (reasonably) detailed account of my adventure, varying in detail depending on how far I actually progress. From what I remember of how difficult Crypt of the Sorcerer was, expect a highly detailed account of very few encounters at all when that book's turn arrives.
  • My Journey - The Path I took, listing all references I visited, so that if you ever lose the will to live you can travel through my exact adventure for yourself.
  • How much fight was in this Fantasy? - A crappily named feature in which I break down the adventure into various aspects and give it a rating out of 10, thus deciding whether it gets the Galactrix seal of approval or not. I plan to use aspects such as illustrations, monsters featured, storyline and level of difficulty to decide how good each book is. There will doubtless be other criteria as I read through the books, but for now, that's what I've got
By now you're probably relieved to know I've nearly come to the end of my first post. Having recently fallen in love again with the series due to the excellence of those blogs on the right (Seriously, why haven't you left this one for one of those yet?!) I scoured a certain online auction site to get hold of the original puffin series which are scarily older than me. Having acquired most of them (Revenge of the vampire £40?! Really?!) I now have a vast plethora of books to fail horribly in. Curiously enough, I shall not be running this blog in numerical order where the books are concerned. Order and logic rarely works in Fighting Fantasy, so why should it here? On that note, I shall be starting on Portal of Evil from the original puffin series, based purely on the fact there's a frickin dinosaur on the cover! I shall be going into the book blind, with no previous experience of it, and therefore have a horrible feeling my adventurer may also end up blind by the end. Oh, one last thing. I may also take a break from time to time to play the quite frankly awesome Gamebook Adventures series by Tin Man Games, who interestingly enough have also acquired the rights to make digital versions of FF books... Go check them out, they're cheap and great fun, even if they are just as hard as good ol' Fighting Fantasy. For now, I shall leave you to do far better things with your lives.. Until the Portal of Evil, Goodbye!
Seriously, DINOSAURS!! What's not to love?!