Friday, 27 July 2012

Hay Fever is a cruel mistress

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

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

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

Monday, 23 July 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Call of Xakhaz (Beneath Nightmare Castle playthough)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Look everybody, Its Cthulhu!...

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

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

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

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

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


May Your Stamina Never Fail...

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

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Joy and Sorrow

Every coin has 2 sides; if one happens to be
a Mammoth, it is a good day.
Forbidden Planet (The store, not Venus) have been tormenting me something horrid with their email updates of late. Firstly, there is a model of the Eleventh Doctor's sonic screwdriver coming out that just so happens to double up as a universal remote control, complete with the commands being gesture based. I mean, come ON! How amazing is that?! Sadly, it will be quite expensive and I will most likely have to refrain from buying it and be "sensible" with my money. Even worse, on Saturday 4th August this very year the Titan of FF (See what I did there? Did you? Never mind...) Ian Livingstone OBE (or is that CBE? I have conflicting emails adding up to a fair bit of confusion. He should be knighted anyway, so it's all irrelevant) is turning up at the London mega-store from 3-4pm to sign a copy of Blood of the Zombies to all who grace him with their presence. I would love to go and meet him/get a signed copy of what is fast looking like a frankly awesome entry to the FF canon. Alas, I have to work on that day as my fellow colleagues have been lucky enough to acquire Olympic tickets for that day and so quite rightly already asked for the day off before me. Bugger. I can and will pre-order a signed copy from Forbidden Planet; it's just not the same though, is it?

The greatest Knight there is. No argument.
Enough of that sorrow. Every coin has two sides; so does every story. The above may be fair reason for sorrow, yet I am also blessed with good reason for joy. Having scoured the internet and second-hand bookshops around the town for a copy of one of the more rarer FF books, Knights of Doom, I finally struck gold. Knights is, bizarrely, the only FF book authored by Jonathan Green that has not been published by Wizard. Having also the unfortunate honour of being one of the latter books published in the Puffin run, it is considerably rare and thus rather expensive to come to own nowadays. Every copy I'd found available was either listed as poor condition with ripped pages and/or the dreaded pen marks (Uh, no thanks) or in excess of £30. Yikes. For that reason, today has cause to land on the positive side of that coin. For today, I managed to acquire Knights of Doom for a mere £4.99 including postage. Hooray! By all accounts it seems as if it's going to be a good book; it must be, it even has the cooler font! I am also currently winning an auction for Moonrunner, another FF title that, from the outside at least, seems an incredibly interesting concept. Assuming I hold onto that, I will then own most of the FF books that have been published in the 'main' series, my only missing titles being:

  • The Rings of Kether (sci-fi, meh)
  • Siege of Sardath (looks interesting enough)
  • Deathmoor (far too expensive to get a copy of it seems)
  • Magehunter (see above)
  • Revenge of the Vampire (The cheapest copy I've seen of this anywhere was £40 and that was listed as condition: bad. Any of good condition I've seen go for over £100 on ebay, which is quite frankly ridiculous!)

  • 5 away from the ultimate aim of owning them all isn't too bad I guess, although my quest to get the latter 3 on that list may turn that coin back over to the sorrow side once more. Still, you can't have everything I guess! I will be posting my playthrough of Beneath Nightmare Castle hopefully early next week; from my quick sneak peeks it seems I shall be having an experience that is enjoyable and horrific in equal measures. So look forward to that; I predict a rather gruesome end to delight you all with. I struggle to find a moral for this brief tale beyond spewing that coin metaphor at you once again, so instead leave you with a rather famous and inspirational poem. What's that? Poetry?!! I agree, it's not my favourite genre but the right poem can be inspirational stuff. With that, I leave you with Rudyard Kipling's 'If''. Till next time people, take care.

    IF you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
    Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
    And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

    If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
    If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:
    Suitably epic, I think you'll agree.

    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    ' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
    if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
    Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
    And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

    Wednesday, 11 July 2012

    A Hitchhiker's guide to Bugger all (Sky Lord playthrough)

    It is made obvious even from the cover that Sky Lord is going to be one of the odd entries within the Fighting Fantasy universe. I'm still not too sure quite what that's supposed to be on the cover, although it reminds me of Calamari. Angry, anthropomorphised Calamari flying around on some speeder with mounted laser guns, that is. Sky Lord has only previously been published in the Puffin series, #33 back in 1988. Written by Martin Allen, the bizarre cover is by Les Edwards and the other illustrations by Tim Sell. Being a sci-fi FF, there's numerous changes to the basic rules here. Provisions have been replaced by Provision tablets, which for the purpose of my imagination are round pills that are purple with yellow polka dots. Gold pieces have Mighty-morphed into Credits, with no real benefit apart from the fact they now taste of strawberries. (To my mind at least). Clearly moving into space has affected my mind somewhat...

    Apart from those aesthetic changes, in Sky Lord you also get a starship called the Starspray. Vehicle combat entails turns taking place one after the other as opposed to simultaneously; the combatant with the highest rating going first. I have to roll under the number of lasers on my weapon to register a hit, and vice versa. The Starspray starts with 4 lasers and 12 shields, which is the equivalent of stamina for vehicle combat. A great benefit here is that shields regenerate after each combat and what's more, if I beat an opponent with a higher rating than my own I can increase my score by 1. My rolled stats for Sky Lord are rather pleasing:
    Skill - 11, Stamina - 21 and Luck - 10. My starting rating is 4, which is as high as it can be to start with. Here's hoping this isn't going to be all a case of horribly mis-placed optimism for what lies in wait...

    The background to Sky Lord is somewhat... comprehensive. This time I don't get to choose a name for my warrior; the book calls me Sky Lord Jang Mistral, elite solar trooper. (Hey, I'll settle for that!) I hail from the planet Ensulina in the 'famous' Holo Falkush star chain, but that's not the best bit. The book casually states that I'm a four-armed humanoid warrior. Excuse me?!?!!? Fucking Awesome. My race is known as the Ensulvars, who are apparently  blood-mix of two nations; the Enzuls and the Ivars, the latter having invaded Ensulina defeating and mixing with the Enzul race. As punishment for inter-species breeding, I have grey eyes and four arms, whilst taking courage and wisdom from the races I'm formed from. Maybe inter-species breeding isn't a bad thing after all, but that's a debate for another time...  To cut a long story short, 4 aeons ago there was a galactic war between the two-headed reptile-like Fethps and the large purple things known as the Deik. The Deik enslaved the Ensulvars, who were then freed 3 aeons ago when human galactic hero from Arbitrakt, Ari Skyfarer (sigh) drove both evil races from the star system. Ari was then crowned first Grand Emperor and a Council of Star Kings was formed. This council meets every 500 days or so, trying to solve any conflicts diplomatically, or failing that, call upon either the Emperor's Imperial Guard or the Jedi... sorry, Solar troopers. That'd be me then...
    Let's be honest; there's many similarities.
    Wish I could have a lightsaber or 4 though...

    Having earned the title of Sky Lord for bringing the murderous Olaf Tharkin to justice, King Vaax of Ensulina and his fellow lords on the council summon me for a new mission, the success of which is vital for the whole Star system. L'Bastin, a  skilled geneticist and steward of Vaax himself, ran into massive debt with his various genetic experiments. Vaxx refused to give L'Bastin any extra credits, and so L'Bastin the bastard started a dastardly scheme. He began dismissing palace staff and promising execution should they ever return. Using his cloning skills, he made clones of them to work in their place so nobody would be any the wiser, getting his creations to give their master their weekly wages. Having solved his monetary problems, L'Bastin started getting more daring with his experiments; a Spider-Fly and a 'gigantic fanged armadillo-bodied rhinoceros' being among them. (Why oh why couldn't the latter have been illustrated?! If ever an illustration has gone begging...) L'Bastin decided his new goal would be to create the perfect life-form... whatever that was. To get more money, he got his creation Ben Frumpet to steal items from the palace and pawn them off. Seeing how most of the staff were now clones, L'Bastin thought his plan was watertight. It was; unfortunately for him though, only as watertight as the Titanic. Y'see, the real Ben Frumpet wandered into the same pawnbrokers, having had to pawn his watch to make ends meat after being sacked. L'Bastin's schemes unravelled faster than a magic carpet being attacked by Jafar, L'Bastin was sacked and promptly fled, staying hidden for many years. Apparently he has recently been tracked to to Aarok, a fortress world in the outer rim. Apparently L'Bastin has found the perfect life-form he seeks; dog-headed superwarriors calling themselves 'Prefactas'. (They're 'Perfect as' - Oh, I crack myself up...)  My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to bust into Aarok, defeat L'Bastin and his army of dog clones and preferably survive aswell. Should I do so, having liberated Aarok I shall be crowned its sovereign ruler!

    Apologies. That was one hell of a long introduction AND I skipped parts! That's just a snippet of the depth of the world that is created around you in Sky Lord. I have to admit; I'm not a particularly big fan of sci-fi within the world of FF. All the ones I played while younger did not impress me in the slightest. Fortunately, Sky Lord is one I'd never played before, so the introduction has left me suitably impressed. There's already more plot here than in any of my previous playthroughs and I haven't even started yet! I only hope the above has given you a flavour of this book without boring you something chronic. Right, lets get started! First things first, I have to choose whether to time-travel in the 4th dimension or light-travel in the 6th dimension. My mind is blown; I'm not qualified to make that sort of decision! Choosing light, it quickly becomes apparent just why I should've entered the time vortex instead; a tentacle-y thing riding a rocket scooter descends upon me. I have to check whether I've turned to the right page, as the stats of this guy are unusually high for an early combat. I had indeed turned to the correct page, which was made all the more annoying as I was reduced to a pile of roasted machinery. Bugger.

    Amen to that brother, I quite agree.
    Now then. I can't just lie down and die within two paragraphs, especially after all that juicy buildup. No, that wouldn't do at all. Therefore I raise my middle finger to the usual rules of life and resurrect myself as if nothing had happened. This 'Second Chance' is a new feature of this blog which will only come into affect should something obscure/unfair happen to me very early on in a book that means barely anything happens. This time, I use time-travel, as I'm not too confident with my dice rolls to get me through that fight. Some weird space fungus attaches itself to my ship; I am advised to burn it off before it blows my ship up. What is it with everything trying to kill me before I turn past 2 paragraphs?! On my way to the nearest planet's atmosphere to do so (Some 26 MILLION miles away) I am ambushed by a silver Stingray-esque ship piloted by a band of 'misguided galactic vigilantes' who happen to be even stronger than my last executioner. Hooray! I only wish they weren't so misguided because they too leave the Starspray in smithereens. At this point I suffer a break down at how depressingly mis-guided my hope was for success following my good stats I rolled. Everyone deserves a second chance. Not a third. So here lies the end of my quest for glory. Bugger, bugger and bugger some more.

    My only consolation is that no
    intergalactic death can be as depressing
    as how that Dog must feel.
    Not my most successful run then. It hardly seems worth anybody's while to post my journey through the book, but here we go anyway for the sake of my own sanity:

    ATTEMPT 1: 1-15
    ATTEMPT 2: 1-64-62-213.

    Yes. Not much else to say there. 5 paragraphs out of 400 visited across two attempts brings a whole new meaning to the term 'Epic Fail'. For what it's worth, my two combats (both space ones) were:

    Fahbad Redneck - Rating: 4 Lasers: 5 Shields: 8
    Pelhon Rangers - Rating: 5 Lasers: 5 Shields: 8

    Considering the rules for space battle, both of those are heavy hitters, although with their low shields score you can outlast them provided you don't roll many 5's and 6's when it comes to your turn. I did, so died both times. C'est la vie. By playing through as I did, I have not garnered enough information to fully complete the next feature, so I cheated and flicked through more of the book to get a proper feel for how it works. So, as best as I can judge, here is...


    The amateur photography strikes back!
    Illustrations: Well, the cover is certainly memorable, even if it isn't exactly the most interesting or inspired one. The interior illustrations range from the cool and interesting to the bizarre and even delve into the poor. The illustration occupying the opening paragraph depicting the Starspray is fairly awesome, but my featured illustration is that of a Prefacta - specifically the last one standing. At least this way should the Prefactas ever come towards Earth you shall all know what one looks like. 6/10.

    Monsters/other NPC encounters: I may not have got very far but I did get into 2 fights. There's quite a few fights with sci-fi regulars such as Cyborgs and various mutants. It seems there are some characters named Bric and Brac, whom I know not much about apart from the fact that their names are awesome. Flicking through Sky Lord it seems there is quite a variety of NPC's to stumble across, so that's a reason to perhaps come back to this one someday. The Prefactas are not the most inspired super-race of creatures but at least they're not the most boring either. Amusingly, that final Prefacta you fight to reach paragraph 400 has Skill and Stamina scores of 6. Shame I couldn't have met him early on... 7/10.

    Storyline/Plot: Oh boy. Sky Lord is very ambitious in this department. One of the most developed back stories I've ever read in an FF, the set up was quite frankly fantastic. Whilst borrowing elements from established sci-fi franchises it managed to keep itself interesting and unique enough to engage me. Of course, dying early on meant I am unable to say as to whether the plot explodes into a thing of true beauty or shrivels up progressing no further. For that reason, my score is tentatively given, as the plot I did become aware of was far greater than some FF's manage in their entirety; it is a shame I couldn't find out more. A Storyline more akin to a novel than an FF. 8/10.

    Difficulty: I think it's safe to say that this book is fairly challenging. No matter which way you go a space combat of reasonable difficulty will ensue. It is worth pointing out that both times my death was in part due to some unlucky dice rolls, although I still think these opening fights are rather harsh. I'm not sure whether there is a massive item hunt required to win this; I hope not. There are some colour diagrams on the inside front cover which are there as a visual aid to the player for some puzzles featured here. I don't know whether these puzzles have to be reached and completed to succeed here, but neither one seems too challenging. Sky Lord seems to be a considerable challenge for any FF player. 9/10.

    Seal of Approval: Without getting further within the world of Sky Lord it is difficult to fall in love with this one. I loved the premise, the execution less so. It is hard to be entertained when it is quite easy to die in a fight on only your second or third paragraph you reach. Such a lack of a difficulty curve suggests either: This book was badly edited, or this was intended to be a frustratingly difficult book to complete. Whichever one of those is true, the feeling this book gives me despite a promising start is sadly not one of approval, but one of utter frustration. A pity.

    Not the hair-raising experience I was
    looking for.
    Whilst I've been having a frustrating time, my fellow FF bloggers have been having a little bit more success in various ways. Dan of Fighting Dantasy has been up to no good in Port Blacksand, whilst Paul/Torallion has a rather valid excuse for his recent slow down in updates. He's getting married! Many congratulations for the day; I rather fancy Cliff would have made a better Sky Lord than myself, he is, after all, immortal....  The moral of the day is: You can't keep having second chances; every so often you must accept defeat. Sadly that is what has happened here, but fear not! A new adventure lies around the next bend!


    May Your Stamina Never Fail...

    I return to a more familiar world and have a potentially horrifying experience as I attempt to reveal what lies Beneath Nightmare Castle...

    Monday, 9 July 2012

    Tentacle Exploration?!?!

    Lies, Damned lies, and Statistics...
    One of the great things you can do being a Blogger is be presented with a wonderful list of statistics listing various things such as how many people visit your blog and how they stumble across it in the first place. Being reasonably skilled/interested in mathematics, I confess to being rather obsessed with said statistics. The two people I owe the most thanks to according to my stats are Marsten and Stuart Lloyd, who consistently give me lots of hits here. Thanking you both muchly (and anyone else who has helped me get views). Today is apparently an interesting day, as the race for the most frequently used browser to view my blog hots up. Firefox has swept aside Google Chrome and is now mounting a serious challenge on Internet Explorer for the much desired honour of absolutely fuck all. In the battle for world domination the good people of Russia have gone from never viewing my blog at all to over 35 hits in the space of only a few hours. With dedication like this it's no real wonder why they were such a force in the Space race... Thank you Russia. And Hungary - you too have been giving me many hits over the past few days, I only hope the Google translate gadget is doing its thing properly and not giving you all inaccurate translations of the word 'Bugger'. As you can see from the above set of statistics, there was a week I didn't post anything where my view count dropped massively, a lesson if one was needed to keep the updates coming fast. I'm trying, honest!

    Ladies, Gentlemen and Octopi, I present Exhibit A.
    Whilst trundling through my stats today though, I came across something most bizarre. There is a stat listing what words people have Google searched to come across the bundle of joy that is this blog. Top of the list with 7 people searching it is 'tentacle exploration'. Curious as to why, I foolishly Googled this myself, as I was unaware as to any possible reference to tentacle exploration I had made within my entries. (Having now checked I guess it may be part of my Portal of evil playthrough, part of the competition with the Salt-Suckers on my face) What appeared on my open browser was a whole load of references to what is apparently the most popular kind of tentacle exploration on the planet Earth on which we live. Without ruining the innocence of any potential younger readers, I shall say that the activity concerned originates from Japan, and has scarred me for life! Also, I advise none of you to ever Google tentacle exploration yourself, as despite searching through the top 30 results I found no link to my blog, which suggests Blogger is playing a cruel sadistic game with me. Today has been an important life lesson in the very reason why Google has a safe search option, which it is safe to say (Pun not intended - honest) I shall have switched on from now on!

    Back to the world of FF, new updates in the blogsphere include part 2 of Stuart Lloyd's look at the fairness of the task at hand within various gamebooks, a futile search for a Temple of Terror in the company of Marsten, and Dan Dan the Fighting Dantasy man has been star-trekkin' across the universe. (again) As for the blog you are currently reading, I hope to have Sky Lord up within the next few days with any luck, so keep the faith people! The moral of the above mess of a post (again, no pun intended!) is for once mildly useful: The Google safe-search option is there for a reason - USE IT! Until next time, take care everyone.

    P.S: I suppose after this post many more people will find this blog via searching for tentacle exploration, only to be most surprised/disappointed by what they find. Ah well...

    Wednesday, 4 July 2012

    Scouting for Monsters (Forest of Doom playthrough)

    If you go down to the woods
    Be prepared. Something any self-respecting Scout would know applies to any adventure into a forest, be it on a massive Jamboree or simply a solo camping trip. However, no Scout would be able to prepare themselves for the various occupants of Darkwood Forest; the titular Forest of Doom. Fortunately, I am not a Scout and as such hope to be able to actually survive an FF book for once on this blog. Forest of Doom is one of those books published in all 3 publication runs; #3 (1983) in the Puffin series, #8 (2003) in the first Wizard series and #13 (2011) in the second. As you can see from the picture, it's one of Ian Livingstone's stories; it's also his first solo effort. My younger self from 9 years ago remembers it as not being Ian's finest, but we shall see whether my 9 year-old self was just thinking a load of rubbish or not in the next 4000 words or so. My copy of Forest is the one on the right, with the cover art by Martin McKenna, who also did the cover of the newer Wizard edition, which is the same Shapechanger only mirrored; I have no idea what the purpose of doing that was. Ian McCaig drew the original Puffin cover; it's similar to Martin's effort but with a less 'modern' feel. The interior decoration is done by Malcolm Barter, the only time his skills were called upon for an FF adventure.

    Being the third FF book in a combined Wizard/Puffin collection, there's nothing too spectacular within the ruleset here. In fact, the only extra to the original 3 stats is the potion choice returning from Warlock; that of Skill, Stamina or Fortune. It's pretty amazing how Ian and Steve touched upon near-perfection with their first books as far as the the rules were concerned; simple but effective combat coupled with the use of luck made for an easy-to-use and enjoyable gamebook system. Later books dared to expand upon the system and make it more complex, with varying degrees of success, but there can be no denying that the FF system is what made it such a good worldwide seller. My stats for Forest of Doom were my best yet:
    Skill 11, Stamina 19 and Luck 12 (FINALLY!!!) With Luck finally for once on my side and a legendary name such as Robert Baden-Powell for my warrior, it was time for the introduction.

    Heck, if this Cat survived a crossbow through the chest,
    a Dwarf of famed high constitution should be able to!
    Robert Baden-Powell is your average sword for hire in search of wealth, danger and his Navigation badge. Life is pretty dull; he hasn't seen anybody in over ten days. Keeping himself occupied by spit-roasting rabbits on an open fire, on the 11th night Robert falls to sleep in a wood with dreams of green-faced Trolls screaming at him. Suddenly a twig snaps nearby his camp, startling him into action. Robert is an alert fellow; you're not going to catch him off guard and carve out his spleen that easily! It turns out that the intruder is an old Dwarf, complete with traditional poisoned crossbow bolts protruding from his torso. Robert seizes upon the chance for his help the elderly badge, giving said Dwarf his sheepskin blanket and some water to help him out. Alas, alack! The Dwarf, (incidentally named Bigleg) is dying from a slow poison administered from the bolts in his chest. Bigleg's dying words to Robert are to ask him to take the hammer to Gillibran, lord of Stonebridge and save the Dwarfs, uniting them against the dastardly Trolls in the process. Apparently this hammer of victory is somewhere within Darkwood Forest, although Bigleg says I'd be wise to visit Yaztromo first and purchase many potent magics. Bigleg dies leaving me his small fortune of 30 gold pieces and a map to help me find my way.
    Surely a contender for the most useless map
    in all history?!?!!?

    Realising that the mapping skills of Dwarves leave alot to be desired, Robert treks off to Yaztromo's tower. Some half a day later, he reaches his destination. It is very much of note to point out that the reader can die in as little as 2 paragraphs in Forest of Doom should they be foolish enough to attack Yaztromo. It it also very much of note to point out that I am not foolish enough to do so. That and the memory of my younger self's failures to complete this book, that is! Following Yaz up the stairs, I am reminded that he is one of the few true recurring characters, featuring in most of Ian's books. He is, in every sense of the word, an FF legend. Resisting the temptation to ask him for an autograph, I follow him upstairs and go shopping. With Bigleg's money I make some potentially life-saving purchases:

    • Nose Filters
    • Rope of Climbing
    • Ring of Light
    • Potion of Stillness
    • Potion of Anti-Poison
    • Holy Water
    • Armband of Strength
    • Fire Capsules
    • Garlic Buds
    The above groceries cost me 25 of my 30 gold pieces - a relative bargain! Yaztromo tells me of the war-hammer Bigleg spoke of. Rather inconveniently, the Eagle carrying it back to Stonebridge was attacked by Death Hawks, and now the hammer lies (in two pieces) in the hands of Goblins within Darkwood Forest. Robert is yet to earn his Goblin-slaying badge, so the prospect of landing that too is too much! Bidding Yaz a fond farewell, I set off into the forest, proceeding east, mainly for the reason east is usually safer than west. Soon Robert stumbles across a Crow perched on a signpost. Rather like the Hugh Grant Dinosaur from an earlier escapade, the Crow proceeded to blow my mind by wishing me a good afternoon. Deciding that Crows are trustworthy creatures, I buy advice on the hammer's whereabouts for a single gold piece. Why does a Crow need gold, I hear you ask? Well, Yaztromo turned this poor fellow into a Crow, although I am not told why. I came very close at this point to restarting the book, not buying anything off Yaztromo so I could give the Crow all 30 gold pieces he needs to get his humanity back. Sadly, the book lacked the option to do so anyway, an annoying case of not having free will to do precisely the action I want when I possess the tools to do so. I sense a debate about free will within FF books coming up at some point in the not-too-distant future...

    With this you can fell an Ogre from 10
    paces! All for only 1 GP too, a true bargain!
    Alastair the Crow advised me to go north, so I do so. Hiding in some bushes to avoid a confrontation with some Hobgoblins, I rather stupidly proceed by guiding Robert down a hole with a Sting Worm in it. Decapitating the despicable creature, I raid it's hole and find 4 gold pieces and a mysterious bottled liquid. Feeling daring, I drink the substance to find it was a potion of weapon skill; consequently for my next two combats my attack strength would have 1 added to it. Nice! Clambering out of the hole full of confidence that going off the beaten track would yield further handy items, my next stop is into a nice cosy cave nearby. An Ogre is in residence and fails to find my name on his guest list. My childish urges get the better of me and I take the option to lob a rock at the Ogre's head. Sadly, my lack of a glove of missile dexterity means I miss, only angering the Ogre further. Drawing my trusty steel, I engaged the Ogre in the ancient art of butt-kicking. Robert is a boss at this and soon the Ogre is lying dead in his own home. The Ogre was keeping a Goblin prisoner in a cage; a Goblin with half the warhammer around its neck. Continuing my run of liberating prisoners, I freed the Goblin, mainly to behead him and steal his hammer piece. Hooray! Half of my  shopping list for Gillibran is now complete! My nose filters also come in handy whilst exploring the cave; A silver box with customary poison gas trap tries and fails to kill me. With a spring in my step, I bound gleefully along the path with the belief that nothing can stop me now.

    Solid advice Horace, much obliged
    Before I know it Robert is dangling upside down in a man trap. Bugger. Luckily I free myself and continue onwards with only my pride dented. Because of this I decide to buck the trend and ignore the next trip off the beaten track I'm offered (A treehouse, how quaint) and hike west. And west some more. A quick brown fox jumps past running away from a pack of decidedly unlazy dogs whilst I hide in another bush to avoid being mauled myself. At this point Ian employs a technique I am unused to in an FF book; I am informed that I wonder much about the fate of the 'poor old fox'. Ouch, nice guilt trip there Mr. Livingstone, well played. Wishing I could turn back time and find a way to keep the fox alive, Robert moves on regardless, albeit with a slight tear in his eye. Moving west, that is. A man flexing his muscles in a mud-hut is the next slightly bizarre set piece I come across. Quin the random muscle man challenges me to an arm wrestling contest to win his bottle containing dust of levitation. He won't give me a demonstration, but I want my jar of dust, even if that is all it is. So I cheat, using my armband of strength. Quin goes on a mini rant before giving me my much earned jar of mystical dust, at which point my adventures going west sadly end due to the only options being north or east.

    I choose the former, winding up at a waterfall. Time to practice my rowing skills. Unfortunately, Robert's chance to win his watersports badge go up in smoke as the boat leaks, ruining all 10 of my provisions.  Bugger. I set up camp for the night and start dreaming of that silky brown fox again. Double bugger. Next thing I know a Werewolf arrives and wakes my up asking whether I have some marshmallows he can roast on my fire. Triple bugger. Robert dispatches of the Werewolf but gets bitten on the arm. Without any belladonna, I sweat (quite literally!) on good fortune prevailing to stop me from dying due to this were-bite. Thank Libra my luck score was so high for once! In the morning I trek further north-east as the option to go west is still mysteriously non-existent. Before long good fortune smiles upon me once more as an arrow aimed at me by a Wild Hill Man misses my head by a matter of inches. Seething with anger, I launch myself upon him and his companion. Seriously hacked off, I hack off their arms to teach them a jolly good lesson, and steal their silver key. (Hey, without arms they weren't going to use it anytime soon)

    Always be nice to clergymen, they bite.
    Thoroughly annoyed at everybody's wishes to end my life upon sight, Robert trundles onwards, completely ignoring a well he goes past. My reasoning is that a well in a forest of doom and gloom is unlikely to have clean water in it; we'll never know. Well actually you can - buy a copy and turn to reference 172, tell me how it goes. The next random encounter features a friar searching for a missing brass bell. Not having one, I toss him a gold piece to cheer him up and he blesses me with good luck. Luck of this sort is what I could have done with back with that pesky portal. Leaving the friar to continue in his search for his bell, Robert finds an old stone building covered in ivy. The door is locked, although that silver key I found earlier unlocks it to my eternal joy. I descend into the dark depths within, finding what appears to be a crypt of some sort. I could just back out without exploring, but I haven't unlocked the door for nothing! Trying to move the stone slab off the coffin in the middle of the room, I find to my eternal shame this time that Robert is a puny bastard who cannot achieve this task. Damn.

    Don't fuck with holy water,
    especially if you are one of the undead.
    However, I am saved by my jar of dust. The slab rises to reveal a terrible Ghoul beneath, who is hungry for my flesh. It is at this point I realise that my water of holiness can aid me; I throw it at the undead monstrosity and laugh manically as its skin burns at the touch of such a goodly weapon. This maniacal laugh soon changes to a gleeful one as I find the hammer head inside the coffin along with a small fortune of 25 gold pieces. Holy shit. I have both hammer pieces; if only I find my way out of the forest I might actually do this! Leaving the crypt, Robert now has a very big grin on his face; even the cheshire cat would be jealous. Ignoring some shiny stuff (I have the hammer, I need no mere trinkets!) I get ambushed by 5 bandits, led by a female. They demand 5 objects from my backpack or I die. Seeing how I am without provisions and only on stamina 12 at this point, I decide that although my skill score is 11 it would be highly risky to enter combat at this point, so begrudgingly begin to decide which of my remaining magical items I bought of Yaztromo I would no longer need. But wait! The book tells me that I can 'treat all the items in my backpack as a single object, including each gold piece' What? HA HA HA! The gods are truly smiling on me. Giving them 5 gold (still leaving me with 27 pieces) I laugh in the face of daylight robbery and move on. Before I know it, I'm out of Darkwood Forest and have arrived at Stonebridge! Barely able to contain my excitement, with both the hammer head and handle in my possession, I can finally....

    TURN TO 400!!!!! 

    Gillibran is suitably grateful for the return of the warhammer and gives me a golden winged helmet worth its weight in gold. I also get a silver box, but unlike the one in the Ogre's cave this box is full of valuable gems and jewels. The book never tells me whether the Dwarves defeat the Trolls, I like to think they did though, otherwise getting this hammer back will have given them all false hope. To be quite honest, I couldn't really give a shit; I just got rich and more importantly, actually COMPLETED an FF book. I seem to remember claiming the day I won an FF book to be a national holiday, but here we have a problem. By the time I finish writing this entry up it shall be the 4th July (Happy independence day to all my American readers) although I actually finished playing this on the 3rd. Therefore, I conclude that both days shall be a national holiday for each of my readers from now on! For once, if you want to play through Forest of Doom yourself my journey through the book shall prove most useful:


    That only comes to a grand total of 79 paragraphs, which is less than 25% of the lot. That's the least I've read yet whilst being my only success. I guess there were a few off the beaten track encounters I skipped, but it's interesting to see how few paragraphs can be visited to win. The fights aren't exactly overwhelming either:

    Sting Worm - Skill: 8 Stamina: 7
    Ogre - Skill: 8 Stamina: 12
    Goblin - Skill: 5 Stamina: 4
    Werewolf - Skill: 8 Stamina: 9
    First Wild Hill Man - Skill: 7 Stamina: 5
    Second Wild Hill Man - Skill: 6 Stamina: 4

    That Goblin is not the easiest combat in the book either, there's some Gremlins with truly laughable skill scores of 4 and 3 respectively. There are also no encounters with monsters of skill higher than 10, which suggests the early FF books were focused on easy combat. Despite everything you've read so far, the next feature may surprise you...


    This seems like the illustration with the
    most love put into it.
    Illustrations: I love the cover featuring the Shapechanger; It looks like a reasonably menacing lizard-esque creature waiting to rip the reader to shreds. The interior drawings vary in quality in my eyes; some look nice and detailed whilst some leave a bit to be desired. The Wyvern doesn't look particularly good and the attention to detail on those Wild Hill Men was also poor. The drawing of the Fire Demon seems badly shaded, although the aforementioned Gremlins look good.The Ogre is also excellent and earns the honour of being my featured illustration. In my eyes there's a real mixed bag here. 5/10.

    Monsters/other NPC encounters: Hmm. There are a few NPC meetings here, such as Quin and a not-so-powerful 'wizard' named Arragon. The problem is that none of them are really interesting in any way, offer nothing to the story (although meeting Quin is essential to getting that magical dust) and have no development to their character whatsoever. Even Yaztromo is not particularly interesting in this adventure; credit however is due to introducing him, he does become possibly the most interesting and certainly the most developed NPC within the whole of FF. The monsters on offer are mostly traditional fantasy fare, with no real unique encounters in Darkwood. That's not necessarily a bad thing; everyone loves a good tale featuring Goblins, Trolls and the like, but none of the monsters are presented in an interesting scenario. 6/10.

    Storyline/Plot: The Dwarves have a warhammer. They've lost it. They need it to unite themselves in one effort against the Trolls, who we assume they are at war with or something. You couldn't care less about this unless you can earn money out of it. That's about it; you learn what plot there is at the beginning of the adventure and nothing more. None of the encounters along the way develop and expand this plot, which leads to a slightly frustrating story, as there isn't really one. Not every FF book needs a plot, granted, but I feel there could have been more made of the story behind this one. The encounters seem slightly false and forced too just to get the reader to use all their items; Why would a couple of Wild Hill Men own the key to a crypt with a Ghoul inside it?! It's not the best fantasy tale, this. 4/10.

    Difficulty: Well, it's my first successful FF venture. That alone doesn't make it easy, although quite frankly I think Forest of Doom is. None of the fights are particularly hard at all and I never even used half the items I bought off Yaztromo at the beginning. There's also very few instant death paragraphs, with the best two being if you foolishly attack Yaztromo right at the beginning and an amusing one where you transform into a Fire Demon! You need that silver key off the Hill men, the dust of levitation off Quin and that's about it. Getting lucky like I did with the choosing of which path to take is obviously helpful, but this isn't the hardest FF by any stretch of the imagination; a few lucky dice rolls in combat and this can easily be done with the lowest initial stats. 4/10.

    Seal of Approval: Part of me really wants to invite that Seal back again for Forest of Doom in honour of it being my first FF I completed. To tell the truth though, I didn't really enjoy this one as much as you might expect. The whole book feels disjointed; it doesn't really flow, seemingly being just one random encounter in the forest after another. There's nothing in here that makes you sit back and think 'Wow, that was really awesome!' But then I think that this could be the only FF I ever do complete; how absurd would it be not to have the Seal of Approval in that case?! I think the deciding factor is a decidedly massive flaw with the gameplay in Forest of Doom; namely what happens if you get out of Darkwood without both hammer pieces. If you don't have both parts the Dwarves send you back around the edge of the forest back to Yaztromo's tower, where providing you pass a luck test you make it back alive. Fine, great, you get to go back in and try again, surely that makes it even easier to succeed? But there's a massive problem with the narrative here. Yaztromo has mysteriously forgotten who you are, as have you he. Quin will have forgotten who you are, and will somehow have got his dust back. That Werewolf has resurrected itself.... need I go on? The book doesn't account for the fact you may have come across many of the encounters on your first or maybe even second pass through Darkwood, resetting everything. That is frustrating beyond belief and all I can say is I'm glad I had both pieces first time around; I don't think I could have coped with replaying the same encounters just because I'd missed a hammer piece. For that reason, it is with no real regret that I do not award the seal this time.

    No Seal this time, this guy ate him.

    What Forest of Doom could have done with is what you see above; some real bite to it. Without it, it simply wasn't that great - Sorry Ian! The only recent update in the FF playthrough family features Marsten going berserk and causing havoc, although I would also highly recommend and nudge you all to check out the ever interesting Stuart Lloyd's blog, currently featuring a look at the fine divide between making a Gamebook challenging whilst keeping it fair and interesting to play without getting frustrated by it; Crypt of the Sorcerer I'm looking at you here! The moral learned from Forest is highly important should you require aerial transport anytime soon; Never entrust the movement of your sacred warhammer to an Eagle.


    May Your Stamina Never Fail...

    I leave this world far behind and delve into my first FF sci-fi book, attempting to overthrow an evil plot and become the Sky Lord...