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 Provisions have been replaced by Provision tablets, which for the purpose of my imagination are round pills that are purple with yellow polka dots.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...


  1. The background is prbably the best part of Sky Lord. Encounters after that get a bit random, and not in a good way - in a really frustrating way that involves guessing the correct sequence of arbitrarily determined decisions such as 'which items will overfeed the blob' and 'which pitch roll and yaw do I need to blow up this starship.'

    I love Nightmare Castle in all its Lovecraftian glory. I'm really looking forward to this. On the plus side, if you get killed in combat in Beneath Nightmare Castle, you can count this as one of the more positive endings.

  2. Quickest game over ever! Amazing :)
    You do say that this is a difficult one to fall in love with at this stage, I tend to struggle to fall in love with any of the FF sci-fi ones. Maybe this can go on your 'replay at some point in the future' pile, along with my Creature of Havoc and Scorpion Swamp?

    1. I'm only thankful that the intro was so long else I'd have had only a crumb of a post here! Yeah, I'm agreed in the sci-fi front, I do love the sci-fi genre but it just never seemed to work in FF from what I remember. I aim to replay any book I fail eventually, once I've finished with all my ones I currently own. Oh yeah, Clash of the Princes arrived today, I must confess to being a tad confused by how it all works!

  3. "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."

    ...What? WHAT? He's smart enough to know how to create identical clones of random people and the ONLY way he can think of to make money is skimming wages and petty theft?!? That just...seems very unlikely. O_o