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!


  1. I remember my parents got me a copy of the first of these when I was a kid. I wasn't all that impressed with it, don't think I ever bothered to finish it. Didn't leave much of an impression I'm afraid, except for the brightly colourful cover. I don't think either of us would give it a seal, although I might use a seal to club the goblin.

  2. I have the set. The first three books are all One True Path item-hunts with at least one harsh fight. This is probably the fairest of them, as the decision-making is less arbitrary (the other two both contain at least one 'Left or right? Wrong way, you're doomed!' choice), but the Skill 9 Orc at the end will probably kill you even if you do everything else right.

    The fourth and final book actually has more than one viable route through it, and is the only one that I've actually won by the rules.