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.


  1. You really sell the fun of this book! That's excellent. Also your comedy's very witty and works well - you don't come off as angry/cynical like so many internet reviewers do!
    I think I'd have loved this book when I was a kid, I wish I'd had a copy. If I'd known it had so many dinosaurs, I'd have hunted down a copy.

    1. Angry/cynical - yep, that's me :)

  2. Loved the review! Keep it up. I love this book as, as you mention, it has a lot of interesting NPC encounters and a great premise.

    Getting the igneolite is necessary and very entertaining (it involves a mad alchemist) and beyond the portal is very interesting.

    I'm not sure but I think you can do this one with a skill of 7 (as long as you pass that skill roll) as none of the difficult combats are mandatory. There's one more item you need as well as the igneolite - you don't die if you don't get it but it makes your life a lot easier and you should because it is absolutely everywhere (and no, it's not food).

    Aesthetic comment - blue links are a bit difficult to read on black background. Maybe change the colour of them?

    1. Thanks guys, appreciate the feedback :) I believe I have brightened up the links somewhat, yellow appears to stand out far better!

  3. Enjoyable review - I remember liking this book quite a bit years back and I'll look forward to getting to this book on my own blog (perhaps in a decade or two). Looks like you got quite far - I seem to remember getting through the Portal itself is the biggest challenge in the book.