Monday, July 18, 2016

Sorcery! Attempt 6 - Book 3: The Seven Serpents

After a bit of a hiatus, I'm back to begin playing through The Seven Serpents, the third part of Steve Jackson's Sorcery! epic.  The second book - Khare - Cityport of Traps - gave me all sorts of trouble, and I had some vague memories of that one.  I've finished The Seven Serpents before, but my memories of it are basically non-existent.  I remember fighting some serpents with magic powers, I remember needing to cross a lake, and I remember some of the monsters.  It's better than nothing, but not by much.

So, the set-up: I'm on a quest to retrieve the legendary Crown of Kings from the evil Archmage of Mampang Fortress, and have just passed through the city of Khare and into the Baddu-Bak Plains.  Alas, some evil bugger has found out about my mission, and seven serpents are speeding their way to warn the Archmage.  My goal for book 3 is to make it to Mampang Fortress while taking out as many of the serpents as possible.  Sounds dead easy.

My character, carried over from book 2, is as follows:

SKILL: 10
STAMINA: 16 (currently 5)
LUCK: 11 (currently 10)

GOLD: 2
PROVISIONS: 1
CLUES: "For sleeping of the Sleepless Ram, seek out the one they call The Sham"

EQUIPMENT: Sword, Backpack, Pipe, Blimberry Juice (1 dose, restores 3 Stamina), Beeswax, Key (numbered 54), Armband of Swordmastery (+2 bonus to Attack Strength when wielding a sword), Skullcap, Magic Chain (can be used to automatically kill an enemy with less than 3 Stamina, but then requires two Luck tests to retrieve), Mirror, Parchment Scroll, Green Wig, Tinderbox, Snake-Bite Antidote, Broadsword (deals 3 points of damage, but has a -1 penalty to Attack Strength), Bow and 10 Silver Arrows, Silver Ring (numbered 130)

When you lay it out like that my character looks well hard, and has a number of really useful items.  The main concern is that I'm beginning the book with a low Stamina.  The series doesn't say anything about healing between books.  You could do it by praying to Libra, which can be done once per book, but I had already used up my prayer earlier in Book 2.  There's no logical reason that I would otherwise be healed, so I've decided that I'll just have to tough it out.

There's one more thing to do before I begin the adventure proper: investigate the silver ring in my inventory.  I can't quite remember who in Khare gave it to me, but I'm pretty sure that I need to check out its effects before I start.  Turning to paragraph 130 (the number etched on the ring) informs me that the ring can be helpful in defeating the serpents: when I confront one, I can subtract 14 from the paragraph I'm on and the serpent will reveal the secret to defeating it.  Good to know!  I'm super glad I remembered to do this before starting.

THE ADVENTURE
As the adventure began, I found myself crossing the Plains of Baddu-Bak.  The book doesn't mess about: right in the first paragraph I was attacked by a flock of screeching Nighthawks.



With my Stamina so low, I decided not to cast a spell, and fought the Nighthawks with my sword.  All four of them attacked at once, but with a lot of luck I was able to kill one of them and avoid being wounded.

Just then a Goldcrest Eagle swooped in and scattered the Nighthawks.  (He needn't have bothered, I was doing fine on my own.)  Goldcrest Eagles are bred and trained for war in my home of Analand, and this one was delivering a message: the Seven Serpents are on their way to warn the Archmage about me.  The message also said that I should seek out Shadrack the Hermit for help.

With that preamble out of the way (seriously, I wish Jackson had just stuck this in the Introduction so that I don't have to fight those Nighthawks at the start of every game) I ventured further into the plains.  I found a solitary tree and rested there for a short time.  While I was resting, the tree's branches twisted into the form of a face, and started to speak.


"You seek the whereabouts of Shadrack of Baddu-Bak, that I know," it said.  "To find him you must detour eastwards from your trail towards the Fishtail Rock.  He is expecting you."  Well of course he's expecting me, they always bloody are.  With no other guides to go by, I dutifully set off to the east, and soon enough I located Fishtail Rock and Shadrack.


Shadrack and I had a good old chinwag, and he also gave me some food (which restored my Stamina to 7).  When the talk turned to the subject of the Serpents, he gave me their whole origin story: about twelve years ago the Archmage fought and killed a Hydra.  He was so impressed with its might that he resurrected all seven of its heads to act as his servants, and assigned one to each of his gods.  In return the gods imbued the Serpents with powers of Sun, Moon, Air, Earth, Fire, Water, and Time.  Each of the Serpents has a special weakness which they guard closely (but which I should be able to pry from them with my ring).  Shadrack only knows the weakness of the Air Serpent: it sometimes leaves its body as a puff of gas, and if the body is destroyed before it can return it will perish.

Not only did Shadrack give me food and information, but he let me sleep overnight in his cave (which restored my Stamina to 10) and he also gave me a Galehorn, which is useful for one of the spells (I can't remember the exact details, and I'm not allowed to look them up).  What a guy!

I headed off, rejoining the main trail, and soon encountered a trio of rather mean-looking Centaurs.


Given their unsavoury look, I thought that an aggressive approach might work best, so I drew my sword.  They didn't take too kindly to this, and the battle was on.  I cast a DIM spell to even the odds (dropping my Stamina to 8), which took out one of the Centaurs, but I still had to fight the other two.  They both fired arrows before closing for battle, but I was able to avoid them.  I decided to fight with my broadsword; I wanted the fight over with as quickly as possible and I didn't think the -1 penalty to Attack Strength would affect me too badly.  I was injured once (reducing my Stamina to 6), but I was able to kill the two Centaurs.

I could have slain the one that I put into a stupor with my DIM spell, but instead I waited for the spell to wear off and allowed him to surrender.  He told me that the Moon Serpent is vulnerable to fire, before escaping and galloping away.  With nothing else to do I looted the bodies of his friends, and found 4 gold pieces (raising my total to 6) and a pouch of sand.

Now I had to decide which direction to set off across the Baddu-Bak Plains.  Checking the map, I opted to travel to the north-east.  Despite my attempts to stay alert, I was knocked off my feet by something burrowing up from underground.  I landed heavily, but a successful Luck test (which reduced my score to 9) ensured that none of my equipment broke.  Of more immediate concern was the creature that was attacking me: a Baddu-Beetle!


Again my Stamina was low, so I decided against using magic.  I hit it with my sword and wounded it, but the Beetle's acidic blood splashed on me (reducing my Stamina to 5).  With every blow I struck there was a chance of being hit by the blood, with various detrimental effects depending on the hit location.  I decided to use my Luck to get the fight over with more quickly (reducing my score to 7), and was able to defeat it with just two more blows, but during the fight the acid splashed on my arm  twice (further reducing my Stamina to 2).

After the fight, I collected some stone dust from the beetle's lair.  (These spell components are starting to become less and less familiar.  I've got no idea which one this is for.)  I also decided to pray to Libra to restore all my stats back to their initial levels.  It was a risky move, but I had my doubts that I'd be able to survive long with just 2 Stamina points

Again I set off, still heading north-east.  There were no signs of life, but eventually I heard a disembodied shrieking, and saw a pair of eyes floating before me.  Around the eyes there formed the sinister shape of a robed, skeletal figure, which was beckoning me forward.


I wanted no truck with this guy, so I ran for cover in some nearby rocks.  This proved to be a terrible idea, as with a gesture the skeleton caused the rocks to come to life and trap my foot.  The boulders formed into the shape of a Rock Demon, and I had to defend myself (with a -2 penalty to Attack Strength due to being trapped).  The first thing I did was free my foot, which got rid of the penalty but gave the Demon and automatic hit, reducing me to 14 Stamina.  The rest of the fight was pretty hairy, but somehow I only suffered one further wound before defeating the Demon (leaving me with 12 Stamina).

Recklessly I charged at the creature, which I now recognised as a Deathwraith.  I drew my bow and silver arrows, and met it in battle.  (The fight here is a melee one, but as the arrows were the only silver weapon I had I decided to fight as normal except that if I hadn't won before all of my arrows were spent I'd automatically be killed.)  The Deathwraith scored two hits on me (reducing my Stamina to 8), but I was able to wound it several times, at which point it was revealed to be an illusion!  It wasn't a Deathwraith, but a portly wizard by the name of Renfren.

My urge for vengeance was less than my need for information, so I interrogated Renfren.  He gave me 9 gold pieces (raising my total to 15), some yellow powder, and  a throwing disc called a chakram that I could use to wound an opponent before every battle by rolling less than my Skill on two dice.  He was also about to tell me about one of the Serpents, but instead he keeled over and died of fright.  The world turned black, and I found myself confronted by the Moon Serpent.

I remembered my silver ring, and used it (by subtracting 14 from the current paragraph number and turning to that section).  The serpent revealed to me that four guardians protect the entrance to the Fortress of Mampang.  Not the most immediately useful information, is it?  I  had thought the Serpents were supposed to reveal their own weaknesses, but luckily I already knew what could harm the Moon Serpent: fire!

I used my tinderbox to light a fire, and battled the weakened serpent with my sword.  It wounded me once (reducing my Stamina to 6), but after I killed it the serpent transformed into a Crystal Orb, which I pocketed before moving on.

After the battle I headed to the northwest for a time, until I encountered a camp of covered wagons and carts.  As I approached two arrows were fired at me, so I held up my hands as a sign that I came in peace.  The camp was a band of Black Elves, who told me that they could not give me food or shelter, and demanded to know why I was walking alone through the Baklands.


I told the Elves that I was a trader, and this changed their tune immediately.  I was ushered into a caravan and shown the following goodies that I could purchase:


There's a whole lot of stuff here, some of it mentioned in the text and some of it only shown in the illustration.  I bought the following: a scroll entitled 'Secrets of the Baklands', a Brass Pendulum, some vittles (enough for four provisions), and some Chainmail Armour (which left me with 1 gold piece).

The scroll made mention of  'The Sham', an old sorceress who lived to the north-east.  It said she might be helpful, but that she was also not exactly as she appeared.  It also warned about the Forest of Snatta, where the plants were as deadly as the animals, although they could be affected by Essence of Bark.

The Chainmail gave a +1 bonus to Skill (as usual, I'm not sure if this should add to my initial total or not; logic says yes, but I defer to the letter of the rules by not applying the bonus).  It also reduces the damage of any combat wound by 1 point if I roll a 5 or a 6.

I decided to take the advice that the Black Elves had previously given me, and opted not to ask for shelter for the night.  The Elves allowed me to leave without trouble, and soon I had made my own camp and settled down to rest.  (Okay, so I must have lost track of some Stamina loss along the way.  Apparently I only had 4 Stamina when I camped, and the food and rest restored me back to 7.)

I headed north-east and soon saw a figure heading towards me at an incredible rate.  It was an old gnome, who told me that if I was a friend of his I would offer him an item.


I gave the Gnome my scroll of "Secrets of the Baklands', as I had already memorised the information.  The Gnome was moderately pleased by the gift (this was determined by a die roll; I got the middle result), and revealed to me that he was really The Sham, otherwise known as the sorceress Dintainta.  She told me to beware the Sleepless Ram when I reached Mampang Fortress, and gave me a vial which could overcome the creature when uncorked.  She also told me that the Earth Serpent lurked ahead, and that I could defeat it by breaking its contact with the ground.  I thanked the Sham and continued on.  (I also ate some provisions in order to raise my Stamina to 9.)

I headed north and came to a rock that looked like a good resting place.  I decided not to bother, but was surprised when a rock I dislodged with my foot reversed its fall and struck me (reducing my Stamina to 8).  The rock exploded, showering me with debris.


I ran from the rocks, but a few struck me (reducing my Stamina to 7). Suddenly a pit opened beneath me, and when I fell in the grounded started to grow red-hot.  I tried to pull myself out of the pit, but something bit my hand (reducing my Stamina to 6).

Unsure what to do, I waited around in the pit, but the heat started to become unbearable (reducing my Stamina to 4).  I tried climbing out again, and a successful Luck test meant that my hand was only bitten once (leaving me with 3 Stamina).  Quickly I drank some Blimberry Juice (restoring my Stamina to 6) and prepared to confront my foe: the Earth Serpent!

Rocks were poised to rain down on me, and the serpent coiled around my leg.  I swatted the Snake to the ground, and after its true nature was revealed I used my ring to learn its secret: offer no gold to Valignya.  Good to know.

I cast a HUF spell, which utilised my galehorn to blow the serpent into the air (and reduced my Stamina to 5).  Cut off from its source of power, the serpent was easy to destroy (I didn't even need to fight it.)

Soon I reached the Forest of Snatta, the next leg of my journey.  I stopped to rest before entering (restoring my Stamina to 8).

At the first junction I chose the middle path.  I could hear a soft plopping sound, but chose to ignore it and continue on.  This was a bad idea, as I was mauled by an invisible beast.  I was able to draw my sword and drive it away, but not before it had a good chew on my arm (reducing my Stamina to 5).

At the next junction I turned right, and came to a path overgrown with bushes.


I squeezed between two bushes (not my choice I might add; this is a case were I was done in by the book assuming actions for me) and was soon hopelessly tangled.  Too low on Stamina to rely on my magic, I decided to draw my sword.  Alas, a failed Luck test meant that I was unable to reach it before the bush strangled me to death.  I could have saved myself by praying to Libra, but I'd used that prayer earlier in the adventure.

THE POST-GAME

I felt like I was progressing reasonably well, despite the fact that I was constantly low on Stamina.  To be honest, that enhanced the atmosphere of the book, and really made me feel like I was struggling to survive in a hostile environment.  The choice of when to cast spells and when to conserve Stamina is a vital one, and I probably chose wrong at the end.  It's not entirely my fault though: I rolled a double 6 on my Luck test, and there isn't much that can be done about that.  Hopefully on my next play through I'll have some more Stamina to work with, and thus more spell-casting options.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Caverns of the Snow Witch (preview) - Final Thoughts

The secondary adventure in a magazine designed to support a gamebook line is never something you expect to be good.  Few would be disappointed if it didn't quite meet the standards set by the main series. Basic competency is enough, surely.  Ian Livingstone had a fair bit of experience writing gamebooks by this point, and one would expect that he could knock up a passable adventure in a lazy weekend.  Caverns of the Snow Witch certainly feels like he tried to do that, and to be honest it's almost as good as I would expect a magazine adventure to be.  Almost,  but not quite.

This is a frustrating one.  The basic set-up is there: a mission to destroy the evil Snow Witch, who is plotting evil beneath the Icefinger Mountains.  It's a classic, tried-an-tested scenario that's perfect for a traditional adventure.  The arctic setting adds a bit of interest, as does the atypical beginning with the hero just trying to make a quick buck by hunting down a Yeti.  It's a solid adventure, but some of the design decisions and smaller details let it down.

Take, for instance, the final battle with the Snow Witch, where you're required to have a Skill of 10 to stake her through the heart.  Admittedly, it's not as bad as I had first thought: this only results in an instant death if you don't have the garlic.  Still, I find it a particularly grating bit of design that goes against the spirit of the FF rules.  (Note that the books rarely follow that line in the FF rules that states that any adventurer, regardless of stats, can win.)

There's also the encounter with the Crystal Warrior, who is very powerful and will most probably kill any less-than-awesome adventurers.  You can avoid it by having a genie turn you invisible, but only if you don't have the warhammer needed to fight it.  So if you have the only weapon that can kill it, you have to kill it; there's no other option, even if you have a low Skill, or you're close to death.  To me it's completely backwards: options to avoid a fight should always be available before the fight.

And then there's the ever-present, ever-increasing Ian Livingstone problem of too many difficult combats.  I understand that FF fans were constantly writing to Steve and Ian to ask them to make the books harder.  Steve had a fair reaction to this request: he increased the difficulty of the puzzles, and made the correct path harder to find.  Ian's reaction?  Throw in a lot of unavoidable combats with opponents of Skill 10+.  It's frustrating, like I said.

The last major problem I have with the adventure is the villain.  The Snow Witch is yet another evil wizard, but being a lady isn't enough to give her a personality.  Even the twist that she's a vampire does nothing for her.  She's just a non-entity, and the confrontation at the end has no weight to it.

I feel like I'm being unfairly harsh to Ian, so I should say a few kind things.  I do like the set-up at the beginning, with Big Jim Sun and the hunt for the Yeti.  Ian's very good at setting adventures up, and he's also quite good at evoking an environment.  The opening stages of the adventure with the hero trekking through the icy mountains is good stuff.


COOL STUFF I MISSED
In six attempts at this adventure I covered pretty much all of it.  The only area I missed was a storeroom guarded by a Zombie.  It contained the garlic I needed to help me fight the Snow Witch, and the ground minotaur horn that I could have used to avoid the Dragon.

MISTAKES AND RED HERRINGS
There aren't any blatant mistakes in the adventure.  There are a few items that never get used, but they're all the sorts of things that you can tell straight away are useless: a stuffed rat, sandals, a box full of teeth, pickled lizard tails, the sort of things that Orcs and Goblins collect that are just there for flavour.

BEST DEATH
This adventure features nine instant deaths, and one alternate ending in which the hero survives without getting the Snow Witch's treasure.  Most of the deaths are pretty banal, to be honest, and more than a few of them are due to being bitten by a vampire.  I just did that with the magazine version of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and I don't want to repeat it here.  So I'll go with a personal favourite:


The good old "drop a mountain on them right at the end of the adventure" trick.  Love it.

S.T.A.M.I.N.A. RATING

Story & Setting: The story is decent, though not all that well realised, and does little to distinguish itself from all of the other "kill the evil wizard" adventures out there.  The setting of the Icefinger Mountains is novel for Fighting Fantasy, and evocatively presented (at least in the outdoor sections).  Rating: 4 out of 7.

Toughness: The adventure relies too heavily on unavoidable combats, and is almost impossible for a low-Skill character to complete.  Success relies almost entirely on the luck of the dice.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Aesthetics: Duncan Smith provides the illustrations, which are serviceable if uninspiring.  I do have to give him credit for fidelity to the text, though.  Livingstone's prose is solid as usual.  The magazine format doesn't do it any favours.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Mechanics: This adventure uses the standard FF rule set, with no changes.  Aside from the standard poor design decisions that are common to the series (i.e. a magic sword that increases Skill instead of Attack Strength), this also has the "Skill 10 or higher" bit in the Snow Witch battle that irked me so much.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Innovation & Influence: The arctic setting is a new one, but ultimately this adventure doesn't add much that hasn't already been done, and done better.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

NPCs & Monsters: This adventure has a few standards (goblins, a dragon), some snow-based enemies (the yeti, a mammoth), and a few new monsters (the sentinel, the ice demon and the crystal warrior).  None of the new entries are all that inspired, though.  Big Jim Sun has a bit of personality, but the Snow Witch is a blank slate.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Amusement: This is almost a fun adventure, if a somewhat over-familiar one.  A few bad design elements and a profusion of hard fights mars it, as does a lack of interesting choices in the encounters.  I'd certainly had enough of it by my last attempt.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

No bonus point for this one.  The above scores add up to 18, which doubled gives a S.T.A.M.I.N.A. Rating of 36.  That sounds about right: it's on the lower end of mediocrity.

Next: The Seven Serpents!  Get hype!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Caverns of the Snow Witch (preview) - Attempt 5 & 6

I'm back again, with another couple of attempts at finishing the preview of Caverns of the Snow Witch from Warlock magazine #2.  This half-a-gamebook has given me all sorts of bother, but hopefully I'll be able to win this time.

Okay, I said that I made a couple of attempts, but lets all ignore Attempt 5, shall we?  I rolled a Skill of 7 and got my character trampled by the Mammoth.  I always appreciate a gamebook with a quick method for killing weak characters.

ATTEMPT 6


The dice were far kinder to me this time around: I rolled a Skill of 12, a Stamina of 19, and a Luck of 12.  I couldn't ask for a finer specimen.

I didn't take any chances in the early stages of the book, and took the same path I outlined in Attempt 3 & 4.  This time I murdered the Neanderthal in the kitchen, and claimed all of that sweet kichen loot: the magic flute and the rune-carved stick.  Otherwise, things were much the same up to the point where I killed the illusionist with the prism.

(My stats by then were Skill 12, Stamina 18, and Luck 9.  I had 3 provisions left, and I was carrying a warhammer, a spear, a cloak, a magic flute, a rune-carved stick, and a sling with 3 iron balls.)

After I killed the Illusionist I took the middle path through the skull mouth, as the other two paths had led me to instant death in earlier games.  The passage opened into a large cavern that was the home of a Frost Giant.  I wanted the rings in his chest, so I was quick to knock him out with a well-placed shot from my sling (this required a roll against my Skill, but with a score of 12 I couldn't miss).

I forgot to add this one last time.

The giant's chest contained three rings: one copper, one silver and one gold.  From an earlier game I knew that one of these rings was cursed, and would significantly drain my Skill.  I didn't want to risk it this time, so I took the gold ring, the only one that I knew was safe.  The gold ring provided me with protection from the cold, and also restored my Luck back to 10.  I left the other two; I knew that one was good, but I couldn't risk taking the bad one.

Further along the tunnel I encountered the dreaded Crystal Warrior, the bane of many an adventurer in the Snow Witch's caverns.  Last time, I had been severely weakened, and it had murdered me.  This time I was at maximum Skill, and I was able to get one back.  It hit me once (reducing my Stamina to 16), but I was able to smash it to rubble with my warhammer.

(I'm aware now that leaving the warhammer behind and using the genie's invisibility power is the far better option here.  I thought I'd take my chances anyway, seeing as my Skill was high.)

After the battle I came to a T-junction, and turned left.  The tunnel came to a large chamber that ended in a wall of ice.  In the centre of the room was a sarcophagus, with the lid propped open.  A white rat suddenly scampered out of the sarcophagus and ran towards me.

The stuff of nightmares.

I wasn't about to trust this situation.  Not only had a friendly Dwarf told me to "beware the white rat", but I've also learned that nothing good ever comes out of a sarcophagus.  Not even cute mammals.

Sure enough, the rat started to change shape.  If I'd had any ground minotaur horn I might have been able to do something about it, but as I hadn't found any all I could do was watch as it transformed into a White Dragon.  A copper ring might have been useful to avoid this fight, but I didn't have that either.  Luckily, my gold ring was enough to protect me from the Dragon's breath: without it I would have been subject to a 2-in-6 chance of taking extra damage every round.


The Dragon had a Skill of 12 and a Stamina of 14, so we were almost evenly matched.  Somehow, mostly through the use of my Luck score, I was able to scrape through with only being hit twice.  Straight after the fight I ate a meal (restoring my Stamina to 16), so I got out of this fight just as strong as I went into it.

After I defeated the Dragon, a figure rose up from the sarcophagus.  It was the Snow Witch, who was revealed to be a vampire.  I had no garlic to repel her with, so she tried to dominate me with her gaze.  I had to roll against my Skill to resist, but once again my Skill of 12 meant that there was no way I could fail.

Gnarly hat.

At this point I realised that I could kill her with a stake through the heart, and luckily I had found one in the form of my rune-carved stick.  I thrust the stick into her heart.

(This might be one of the worst pieces of gamebook design that I have ever seen.  You can only succeed at staking the Snow Witch if your Skill is higher than 10.  There's no roll involved, no element of chance at all.  You need a Skill of 10 or higher, and if you don't have it then bad luck.  I'm pretty sure this is the only way to win, which makes it even worse.  The instructions even have the gall to include the line saying that anyone can win no matter their initial rolls!  What a load of old bullshit! Ian, this is your worst move yet.)

With the Snow Witch dead, I was free to explore her cavern.  Frozen into the wall of ice was a trunk full of treasure.  I hacked it out of the wall and started emptying my backpack so that I could carry as much gold as possible.  There was one last obstacle however: a golden idol transformed into a Sentinel, the Snow Witch's final guardian.


The Sentinel hit me once (reducing my Stamina to 14), but I made short work of it.  Now, with the Snow Witch dead her followers would be free.  I left the caverns and made the trek back to Big Jim Sun.  Even though I was loaded with riches, I was still greedy enough to go and demand the 50gp reward for killing the Yeti.  Business is business, after all!

THE POST-GAME
The beginning of this adventure is solid (if a bit too difficult), but the end just devolves into a series of battles against very strong opponents.  I only made it through because my scores were super-high.  And that bit about requiring a Skill of 10 to stake the Snow Witch?  Unforgivable.  I missed some items that might have made the final encounters easier or more interesting, but as I experienced it it's a poor ending.  Hopefully the book version clears some of these problems up.

NEXT
I'll do a quick wrap-up post to finish this one off.  I won't bother with an Exploring Titan, because this is so similar to the book version.  After that, it's on to the third book in the Sorcery! epic - The Seven Serpents.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Caverns of the Snow Witch (preview) - Attempt 3 & 4

Half a gamebook.  That's what I'm stuck on right now.  I suppose that there's no reason a short gamebook can't be difficult, but there's something about it that galls me.  It's not even a real gamebook!  I should be done with this thing by now!  I never should have made that no-cheating rule.

ATTEMPT 3


I can't blame the dice for my misfortune, because my stats have been rather good in all my attempts so far.  This time around is no different: I rolled a Skill of 12, a Stamina of 21 and a Luck of 10.   It would be nice to be able to point at a guy with Skill 7 to justify my lack of success, but nope.  I only have my own curiosity and stupidity to blame.

I got off to a bad start right at the beginning of my adventure.  As usual I opted for the path with the Mammoth, but despite my Skill being higher it absolutely mauled me.  It hit me five times during the battle, and I was left with a mere 11 Stamina by the time I killed it.  This did not bode well for the future.

The rest of the initial stages presented me with little difficulty, and I was able to raid the trapper's hut and kill the Yeti with only some minor wounds.  I had learned my lesson from last time around, and I avoided the blizzard in my nice, warm igloo.  I still had a Stamina of 11 when I reached the Snow Witch's lair, and I was able to restore that to 14 by drinking the potion near the entrance.

This time around I decided to attack the Mountain Elf when I encountered him.  He was a pushover, but rather than kill him I opted to spare his life.  He was pretty happy about it, and even happier that I was here to kill the Snow Witch, so he gave me his cloak.  Always nice to have a disguise in enemy territory.

At the next junction I followed the Elf's advice and turned right, into uncharted territory.  I soon came to a kitchen, where a Neanderthal was stripping the skin from a dead moose, under the supervision of a Gnome chef.

Insert the Gordon Ramsay invective of your choice.

When I entered the Gnome offered me a stale cake.  This was a pretty meager haul, and I fancied myself against these two, so I attacked them.  The Neanderthal died with little trouble, and the Gnome fled to raise the alarm.  (That's what the text says he does, but the Gnome's escape affects nothing at all.)

For a kitchen, the cupboards were loaded with treasure.  I found a magic flute, a rune-covered stick, a rose that restored my Stamina to 17 when I smelled it, and a book.  Unfortunately, the book had a poison needle in the clasp, which dropped my Stamina back to 13.  In better news, inside the book was an Amulet of Courage that restored 2 Skill points.  This was fairly useless for me, but I kept it anyway just in case it would come in handy later.

After leaving the kitchen I came to the cavern with the Ice Demon and its worshippers.  With my cloak and a successful Luck test, I was able to sneak through unhindered.

Following that I rescued the Dwarf from the pit, and went on to confront the Illusionist and his prism.  At first I tried to trick the Illusionist by saying that I had come to play my magic flute for the Snow Witch.  He seemed happy enough to let me pass, but I didn't trust the path he tried to lead me down, so I killed him, and released the Genie from his prism.

Last time I had chosen the right tunnel after defeating the Illusionist, and ended up trapped between two gates.  This time I went through the skull mouth, which led to a large cavern inhabited by a Frost Giant.  I had the option of running through before he spotted me, but what kind of an option is that for a self-respecting adventurer?  It's no way to obtain loot, that's for sure.  Instead I knocked him out using the sling that the aforementioned Dwarf had given me.  (This required a roll against my Skill, but with a score of 12 it was impossible to fail.)

The Giant dropped a chest, which contained three rings and a cracked bottle.  The bottle was perfume, so I ignored it and moved on to the rings.  One was gold, one was silver, and one was copper, and I made the decision to try them all.  This is always a bad idea in gamebooks, but I was hoping that the benefits would outweigh the penalties.

The gold ring provided magical protection from the cold, a handy thing to have in an ice-themed adventure.  The copper ring gave me the power to summon a warrior to my aid but once.  The silver ring...  The silver ring was cursed, and drained my life force.  I had to roll a die, and subtract the number from my Skill.  Of course, I rolled a 6, and went from legendary killing machine to doomed fool in one stroke.  My only hope was to find a hefty Skill bonus, and soon.

Instead, what I found was a Crystal Warrior.

He looks a bit like Unicron.

The Crystal Warrior was one of the Snow Witch's guardians, and had apparently been sent to deal with me personally.  My sword was useless against it, but luckily I had a warhammer (looted from the trapper's hut).  Unluckily, the Crystal Warrior's Skill was far in excess of mine.  I was able to get one good hit in, but aside from that it destroyed me.

THE POST-GAME
Done in by my curiosity once again.  Well, I say that, but I put the silver ring on first, so I would have suffered the penalty regardless of my decision to try them all.  At least now I know to avoid it next time.

I assume that the Crystal Warrior is unavoidable; I encountered it at a four-way junction, so I figure that the two paths I haven't explored yet converge here.  It's a hard fight, and the annoying thing here is that I should have more options.  What about that warrior that I can summon with my ring?  What about the Genie I liberated, which said it could turn me invisible?  Both of those were options I would have used if the book allowed it.  It didn't, and I was forced into an unwinnable combat.  You win again, Livingstone.

ATTEMPT 4


This should be a quick one.  I followed much the same path as the previous entry, with a few minor differences.  Instead of fighting the Elf, I told him I was here to join the Snow Witch, then changed my story and told the truth.  He gave me his cloak without the need for battle, so that seems like the best option to go for.  In the kitchen I took the stale cake instead of fighting; it restored a mere 1 Stamina, so engaging in some chef murders seems like the better way to go.

After killing the illusionist I chose the left path, and much like the right path I was trapped between two gates.  I didn't have the key I needed to unlock them, so I was trapped and my adventure was over.  An abrupt and unsatisfying end.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Caverns of the Snow Witch (preview) - Attempt 2

It's time to take a second crack at the preview of Caverns of the Snow Witch from Warlock magazine #2.  Last time I was done in by a bad Luck score.  Hopefully the dice are kinder to me this time around.

CHARACTER CREATION
I rolled a Skill of 11, a Stamina of 20, and a Luck of 12.  This is a great character, and only in the balls-hardest gamebooks (cough*CryptoftheSorcerer*cough) would you be disappointed with score like these.

THE ADVENTURE
Ice!  Caravans!  Yeti murders! Yes, the time has come for me to strap on my sword and venture into the frozen north to hunt down a murderous beast for a big sack o' gold.  Let's do it.

The first decision in the adventure is whether to cross an ice bridge.  Last time I had ignored it, but this time I decided to cross.  I had to Test my Luck to cross safely; the roll was successful, and I never discovered what would have happened had I failed.

After crossing the bridge, I was attacked by a pair of hungry Snow Wolves.  This being an Ian Livingstone joint, I had no option but to fight them one at a time.  One wolf managed to bite me twice (reducing my Stamina to 16), but they were otherwise unable to match my prowess.

(The choice at the beginning of the book seems to be a decision between a branch where you have to fight two monsters of low-to-medium difficulty, or a branch with a monster of medium-to-hard difficulty.  In most cases I'd opt to fight the medium-to-hard Mammoth, just because the fight is over more quickly.  Besides, if you can't beat the Mammoth you probably won't beat the Yeti either.)

Some surprisingly well-fed Snow Wolves


A blizzard sprang up, threatening to freeze me to death, but rather than build a shelter I decided to tough it out.  (Besides, who could ever carve an igloo with a sword?  What an absurd notion!)  The blizzard worsened (reducing my Stamina to 14) but still I pressed on.  This was a bad idea.  I had proven my manliness, but at the cost of getting frostbite in one arm.  A failed Luck test (against a Luck of 11!) meant that the frostbite was in my sword-arm.  This reduced my Skill to 8, my Stamina to 10, and my Stupidity to 8 billion.

After the blizzard ended I found a fur trapper's hut and went inside.  With little regard for the trapper's privacy I ate some stew, and also stole a warhammer and a spear from under his bed.  (The stew restored my Stamina, and I ate two more provisions to bump my Stamina back up to 20.)

Upon leaving the hut I followed the trapper's footprints, and found him just as he was being murdered by a Yeti - the same Yeti I had been tracking!  (How does the hero know that this is the Yeti he's searching for?  It's a bit of a stretch.)  Due to the frostbite in my arm I wasn't able to throw my spear at it, so I closed for hand-to-hand combat.

I'm afraid this one was a massacre.  I hit the Yeti once, and managed to strengthen the blow with a successful Luck test, but that was the peak of my success.  The Yeti slaughtered me, and I assume that my corpse is now hanging by the ankles in its lair Skywalker-style.

THE POST-GAME
I blame it all on the blog.  Because I need to write about my adventures, I feel obligated to explore new pathways.  That's why I crossed the ice bridge, and that's why I decided to plunge headfirst into a blizzard.  It's not smart play, but a quick game means a quick write-up, so it's not all bad.  Now I can go play some Legend of Zelda instead.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Caverns of the Snow Witch (preview) - Attempt 1


I realise that I've been stuck on Warlock magazine #2 for over a month now, but I have one more thing to cover before I'm done with it: Caverns of the Snow WitchCaverns of the Snow Witch will eventually be published as the ninth book in the main Fighting Fantasy series, and I'll be getting to that eventually.  But before it was expanded into a book it appeared as a short (190 paragraph) adventure in Warlock.  I'm not sure how this adventure was developed; was it intended to be a book, and included in Warlock to whet the appetites of the readers?  Or was it published in Warlock before Ian decided that since it was already half-written he might as well make some money off of it?  I suspect the latter, but it's impossible to know without asking the man himself.

At a glance it appears that there's little difference between the book and magazine versions.  The magazine covers about half the length of the book.  It also features different illustrations, by Duncan Smith of Scorpion Swamp fame.  I'm perhaps being overly thorough by covering this one,  but thoroughness is one of the goals of the blog.  No gamebooks left behind!

BACKGROUND
The hero begins the adventure as a caravan guard in the icy regions of northern Allansia.  This might be the most logical opening to an FF adventure yet.  Most adventurers in Allansia seem to just wander around aimlessly, but this guy has an actual job, and comes across as a functional human being.

During an expedition, the caravan comes across an outpost that has been destroyed, and its inhabitants slaughtered by some enormous creature.  Big Jim Sun, the caravan leader, asks the hero to hunt down the creature, and we're off to the races.  I'm not entirely sure that the reward of 50 gold pieces is worth it, but it's a living I guess.  Any adventurer willing to hire himself out for guard duty is probably a bit low on ambition.

Big Jim Sun

CHARACTER CREATION
This adventure uses the standard FF rules, so I can get straight into it.  I rolled a Skill of 12, a Stamina of 19, and a Luck of 7.  That Luck score is a worry, but I'm pretty sure I'll be able to compensate with a Potion of Fortune.  Hang on, wait!  There are no potions in this adventure!  And you only begin with five provisions!  This is going to be more difficult than I thought.

THE ADVENTURE
By the time I returned to the outpost, snow had covered the bodies and obscured the creature's tracks.  With nothing to guide me, I set off north towards the Icefinger Mountains.  After trudging through knee-deep snow for a while, I came to a crevasse that was spanned by an ice bridge.  Now, a wooden bridge I can get behind.  Stone I'm fine with.  An ice bridge?  Over a crevasse?  Bugger that for a game of soldiers.  I decided to leave the bridge and walk around.

The wind started to howl, and out of the snow came an enormous looming shape: a Mammoth!  It attacked me without provocation, and I had no choice but to fight it.  (Yep, this is an Ian Livingstone adventure all right.)  The Mammoth hit me once (reducing my Stamina to 17), but I was soon able to kill it and continue on.

I think Snuffleupagus got lost

It took about half an hour to reach the end of the crevasse, and I was then able to climb further up the mountains. The snow started falling harder, and I was pretty sure that this was the beginning of a blizzard.  Rather than press on I decided to dig myself a shelter, and in complete defiance of all logic I "hurriedly cut blocks of ice out of the mountainside and built a makeshift igloo".  With a sword.  This is some seriously hardcore shit.  If I ever get trapped in an arctic wilderness, I want Ian Livingstone there as my right-hand man.  Either he's the hardest man alive and he'll save my life, or I get the satisfaction of watching him freeze to death, a fitting punishment for having written Crypt of the Sorcerer. Either would be fine.

I sheltered in my igloo until the storm blew over, but I had to consume two of my provisions to regain my strength (without any addition to my stamina).

Further on I found a hut sheltered beneath an overhanging rock.  Footprints led away from the hut and up the side of the mountain, but I chose to ignore them for now and enter the hut.  Inside I found the belongings of a fur trapper, and some cold stew in a pan.  I put some logs on the fire and heated up the stew (restoring my Stamina back to 19).  As I was leaving I spotted some weapons under the bed: a warhammer and a spear.  I took them both with me and followed the footprints.

As I climbed higher, the air became thinner (reducing my Stamina to 18).  I heard the cries of a human mixed with a ferocious roar, and I ran to investigate.  A fur trapper was being menaced by a huge bear-like beast with vicious claws and teeth - a Yeti!

THE YETAY!  (One for the wrestling fans.)

Before attacking the beast I hurled my spear into its chest.  The creature was wounded but not killed, and I had to fight it with my sword.  It wounded me once (reducing my Stamina to 16) before I could kill it.

I went to the fur trapper's aid, but it was obvious that he would not survive his wounds.  With his dying words he told me about his search for the legendary Crystal Caves, where dwelt the evil Snow Witch and her followers.  She was apparently planning to use her magic to bring an ice age so that she could rule the world.  The entrance to the caves was hidden with an illusion, but only yesterday the trapper had found it, and marked it with a piece of fur.  He implored me to find and kill the Snow Witch, and as an incentive he mentioned the great treasures frozen into the walls of her domain.  Then he died, and I was left with a choice: return to Big Jim Sun with evidence of the Yeti's death to claim my reward, or undertake a dangerous adventure in the Crystal Caves?

Apparently there was no decision to be made, as I was too excited to pass up the prospect of further adventure.  I set off, looking for the entrance to the caves.  While searching I was almost caught in an avalanche, but a successful Luck test (reducing my score to 6) ensured that it passed me by harmlessly.

I soon found the entrance to the caves in a wall of ice and entered.  Predictably, the first thing I encountered was a T-junction.  I turned right.

The tunnel ended at a cavern.  In the centre of the cavern was a plinth of ice, bearing a bowl full of yellow liquid.  I took a drink, and was rewarded with a feeling of warmth: the liquid had been enchanted by the Snow Witch to protect her followers from the cold.  It restored my strength (returning my Stamina to 19), and would have cured frostbite in my sword arm if I had suffered any.  I returned to the junction and took the other path.

The tunnel turned to the right, and I bumped into a Mountain Elf wearing a hood and a collar around his neck.

Who does this arsehole think he is, Drizzt Do'urden?

I tried to give him a nod as I walked past, but a failed Luck test (reducing my score to 5) meant that he stopped me and asked why I wasn't wearing my obedience collar.  I replied that I had put on weight recently, and my collar was being widened (because how could I not choose such an absurd option?).  The Elf laughed at my joke, and was about to give me some information when he started screaming and clutching at his own collar.  Soon he was dead (which reduced my Luck to 4), and I decided to press on.  I got no time to cry over dead elves.

I came to a fork in the tunnel.  I could hear footsteps coming from the right, so I turned left to avoid them. Unluckily for me I fell in a pit trap (reducing my Stamina to 17), and even more unluckily two Goblins appeared at the top of the pit, intent on my capture.  They lowered a rope, and I had little choice but to climb out.  (I could have tried grabbing the rope and pulling them in, but I had a suspicion that this would leave me with no means of escape.)

Pretty handsome for a Goblin.

The Goblins motioned me forward with their daggers, but instead I decided to take them on bare-handed.  I was able to quickly subdue one goblin, but the other lunged forward and cut me with his dagger (the result of a failed Luck test, which reduced my Luck to 3).  With my Skill reduced by 3 due to lack of a weapon, the goblin was able to wound me again, and by the end of the fight my Stamina was 13.

Looting the goblins I found two daggers, some salted fish (no indication if this counts as a provision or not), a candle, and 2 gold pieces.

I decided to continue along the tunnel rather than retrace my steps, and it soon opened out into a large cavern.  There I saw two steaming pools, with a weapon protruding from each: a sword and a spear.  Against the wall was the frozen corpse of an orc, with its arm pointing at the sword.  There was also a rhyme carved into the floor:

"Sword or spear
Strength or fear
How to choose
Win or lose"

Say what you want about Duncan Smith, but his fidelity to the text is impeccable

All signs pointed to the sword as being the better option, so I pulled it forth.  It was a magical Sword of Speed, and I was able to add 1 Skill point.  (This is another example of poor implementation of the FF rules.  I would expect my prowess to be improved by wielding a Sword of Speed, but going by the rules it grants me no bonus whatsoever, as I can't improve my Skill beyond my initial level. I wonder how much of this is deliberate, and how much is Ian Livingstone cocking it up.)

I searched the Orc's backpack, and found a pair of sandals, a stuffed rat, and a loaf of mouldy bread. I decided to eat the bread, but when I broke it open I found an iron key inside (restoring my Luck to 4).  I thought better of eating the bread, and walked through the far tunnel.  (I didn't bother adding the sandals or the rat to my inventory, which may be akin to suicide in a Livingstone adventure.  I'm not sure what I was thinking.)

The tunnel turned right, and I came to a cave entrance from which I could hear music.  The entrance was partially covered by a tattered animal skin, but I could see a man's legs wearing green and purple hose and red slippers.

A contender for the most pointless gamebook illustration ever

I went inside, where I encountered a Minstrel. I asked him about his music, and he was so pleased that he played a song that healed my wounds (restoring my Stamina to 17). I thanked him and left.

In the distance I could hear chanting.  Soon the tunnel opened into a large cavern, where ten of the Snow Witch's followers (a mixture of Goblins, Orcs and Neanderthals) were kneeling in worship before the effigy of an ice demon.


I tried to cross the cavern without them noticing, but without an adequate disguise I was accosted and asked why I didn't stop to sing the praises of the Frozen One.  Without an adequate excuse, I decided to make a run for it.  One cracked his whip while another hurled a dart at me.  I failed my Luck test, and the whip wrapped around my legs and tripped me.  (I rolled an odd number on my failed Luck test. Had I rolled even, I would have been struck by the dart. Either way, my Luck was reduced to 3).

The followers picked me up and dragged me before the effigy.  Of course it came to life, and I found myself in battle with the Ice Demon.  It only wounded me once, but it also had an icy breath which it blasted me with quite a few times.  By the time I destroyed the Ice Demon my Stamina had been reduced to 10.  It's followers fled, in awe of my power, and I was able to restore my Luck to 4.

At the next junction I could hear cries for help coming from the left, so I went to investigate.  The tunnel ended at the edge of a deep pit.  At the bottom of the pit was a Dwarf, and from high above large boulders were being dropped on him by followers of the Snow Witch.


I reached down and helped the Dwarf to scramble out of the pit.  The Dwarf was quick to leave me, as he wanted to escape back to his village, but he left me with a sling and 3 iron balls.  He also shouted a cryptic message: "Beware the White Rat!"  Thanks a bunch, mate.

The next cavern had three path forward, one carved in the shape of a giant skull.  This looked ominous, so I quickly ate a meal (restoring my Stamina to 14, and leaving me with 2 provisions). As I finished eating, a man carrying a glass prism stepped out of the mouth of the skull.  He commanded me to turn back, as only the Snow Witch's personal servants were allowed any further.

Weird, it's like the man and the skull have the same haircut

I responded by drawing my sword.  The man sneered and rubbed his crystal, and suddenly there were three identical images of him before me.  I struck out at the one to the right, and was rewarded with a scream.  The false images faded away, but the man stood up and laughed, his wound completely healed.  My sword was obviously useless here, so I smashed his prism instead, and he ran fleeing back into the skull mouth.  The shattered fragments of the prism formed into a Genie, who rewarded me with the power to become invisible just once.

Normally I would pursue the wizard, but I was reluctant to enter the skull.  Instead I took the path to the right.  An iron grille crashed down behind me, and another blocked the far end of the passage.  I was trapped!  Behind the grille I could see a knob, which I figured must raise the grille.  I couldn't reach it with my sword, so I tried to throw a dagger at it.

Unfortunately, this was not a test of Skill but a test of Luck.  My Luck was 4, and I failed at both attempts.  I was trapped in the Crystal Caves, condemned to eventual capture and slavery.

THE POST-GAME
I was right about that low Luck score, as it turns out.  There's a genuine problem with the Luck system in Fighting Fantasy, I feel.  Once your score drops below a certain point, it becomes useless.  The Downward Luck Spiral, as I call it.  Whether you succeed or fail at Luck tests, your score always goes down, and it's rare that adventures grant enough Luck bonuses to balance this out.  Eventually you'll get to a point where every Luck test is a failure.  Without the Potion of Fortune it's even worse.  I've often thought that the system would be improved if your Luck went down on a successful Luck test, and up on a failed Luck test.  That's not the system, though, and I was done in by a low score from the outset.  I just have to hope for better rolls next time.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (revised) - Final Thoughts & Exploring Titan 7

FINAL THOUGHTS

There's not a lot to say here that I didn't already cover in my entry for the book version of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.  Given that the revised version is mostly identical, pretty much everything I said still applies.  It's a fun, iconic adventure that perhaps makes little sense but compensates for that with atmosphere and mystery (and perhaps a bit of nostalgia).

The idea of revising Warlock is a good one.  I doubt many buyers of the magazine hadn't already read the book, so changing a few details and mixing the keys around to create a different path to victory is a good way of giving them their money's worth.  I can't help feeling, though, that not enough was changed.  Aside from switching the keys, Ian and Steve have left the adventure much the same as it was.  Initially it was fun, as I enjoyed the uncertainty of no longer knowing the exact path to victory.  Once I found the path I was a little disappointed though, as one of they keys was in exactly the same location as the book, and another was very easy to find.  I suppose I was hoping that there would be more variance.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN VERSIONS
The differences between the book and magazine versions are mostly in the locations of the keys.  In the book, the keys are located as follows:

    Key 99 - In the snake box
    Key 111 - Inside the Iron Cyclops
    Key 9 - Carried by the Ogre
    Key 125 - In the room with the gas trap
    Key 66 - In a drawer in the Boat House
    Key 111 - Guarded by the Minotaur

In the magazine, they are switched around as follows:

    Key 125 - In the Orc Chieftain's chest
    Key 111 - Guarded by the Werewolf
    Key 111 - Guarded by the Minotaur   
    Key 66 - In the room with the gas trap
    Key 99 - Inside the Iron Cyclops
    Key 9 - Carried by the Giant

This switching of locations means that some places which once had keys now have different treasures.  The snake box now contains 6 gold pieces instead of a key.  The Ogre now has 3 gold pieces.  And best of all, the drawer in the Boat House now contains a silver dart, which can be hurled at enemies before battle begins.  It's also useful in battling the Wight.

There's one other difference that switching the keys around brings: you can't win the adventure with the Eye of the Cyclops.  In the book you never have to fight the Warlock on a successful play-through, because you'll always have the Eye and can blast him into oblivion.  Here you have to battle him, and consequently the book is slightly more challenging, and less of an anticlimax.

COOL STUFF I MISSED
It's difficult to think of cool things I've missed while playing this adventure, because I've literally played through every paragraph of the book.  (I do mean literally; I spent a few weeks circa 2000 playing the book over and over again until I had legitimately covered every single entry.)

I guess I've missed some things for the blog though, in my coverage of this and the book version.  The major path I never covered is one that goes through a room of magical darkness, which you need a blue candle to get through safely.  This path also contains a magical iron helmet, and an enchanted sword by the riverbed.  Oh, and a giant spider.  It's too bad that in neither version can you take this path and still win.

MISTAKES AND RED HERRINGS
There are quite a few items in this book that serve no purpose.  The black silk glove, the Y-shaped sticks, and the book from the vampire's coffin spring immediately to mind.  The glove ties into a rumour about Zagor's power, albeit a false one, and I guess it comes in handy as an item you can discard in order to pick up the shield.  The sticks and the book do nothing except take up room in your backpack.  Like the shield, you need to discard an item to pick them up, so perhaps the purpose they serve is to tempt you into dropping something that's actually useful.

There's one entry of this adventure that can't be accessed from anywhere: 192.  It's supposed to be one of the entries you go to by adding up the numbers on your keys when unlocking the Warlock's treasure chest, but there's no combination of keys that adds up to this number.  No doubt it was added in there to bump the number of entries to 400.

Speaking of key combinations, all of the possibilities are accounted for even though you can never get to the end with every key.  There are three keys that you can always find: the one in the Orc Chieftain's chest, the one guarded by the Werewolf, and the one guarded by the Minotaur.  As for the other three, you can only get one on any adventure.  The Iron Cyclops, the Giant and the room with the gas trap are all on mutually exclusive paths, which means that you can finish with four keys at most.  As such, entries 174, 186, 200, 219, 233 and 290 can't be reached legitimately.

BEST DEATH
I've already covered my genuine favourite in my entry for the book: being eaten alive by the Ghoul.  None of the other deaths quite match up, but for this entry I'll provide a solid alternative.


S.T.A.M.I.N.A. RATING

I was tempted not to give this a STAMINA rating, as it's so similar to the book, but what the hell.  Here it is for the sake of completeness.

Story & Setting: Looking at the book version, I see that I gave it a rating of 5.  That is super high, and I really don't know what I was thinking.  I was going to rate this a point higher, because the Background section is a genuine improvement that ties Firetop Mountain much more directly into the FF setting.  But I can't in honesty give this a 6.  So I'm giving it the same score, and I still think it's too high.  Rating: 5 out of 7.

Toughness: It's the same well-balanced adventure as before, and garners the same score.  Rating: 5 out of 7.

Aesthetics: The writing is the same, and most of the illustration have that same Russ Nicholson goodness.  Many of the illustrations are smaller, though, and much of the detail is lost.  Nicholson provides two new illustrations, but they're in a different style.  Some time after The Citadel of Chaos Nicholson started using thicker lines, and his work looks busier and more cluttered.  I've never liked it as much as the delicate linework of Warlock and Citadel of Chaos.  Throw in the ugly frontispiece illustrations from Tim Sell (that have little relevance to the adventure at all) and I have to knock this down a few points.  Rating: 4 out of 7.

Mechanics: There's no significant difference between the book and the magazine versions.  Rating: 5 out of 7.

Innovation & Influence: Given that this is revising the original, I can't mark it as highly.  It's hard to know just how to rate this one to be honest, so I'm going to split it down the  middle.  Rating: 4 out of 7.

NPCs & Monsters: Again, this is little different from the book. The villagers in the introduction are a little more fleshed out, but not enough to affect the rating.  Rating: 5 out of 7.

Amusement: I gave the book the full rating in this category, but if I'm being perfectly honest I enjoyed this version more because it's new to me.  I can't rate this higher than a 7, though, and it doesn't feel right to rate it equally to the book. It's enjoyable, but I can't see myself going back to it any time soon. Rating: 5 out of 7.

No bonus point for this, as it's not different enough to warrant it.  The above scores add up to 33, which doubled gives a STAMINA Rating of 66. It's a strong variant, but it can't match the influence and iconic power of the original.

EXPLORING TITAN 7

This is going to be a short one, because most of this adventure has been covered in Exploring Titan 1.  The details are mostly the same as the book version, and I've covered them already.

What is different, and greatly so, is the Background.  In the book version, the adventurer follows some rumours to a generic village, stays there for a short time, then ventures off to Firetop Mountain.  It's serviceable, but that's about it.

Now, with the setting of Allansia firmly established, Ian & Steve can rewrite this so that it fits better.  It begins with you meeting an old man while wandering the Pagan Plains.  The old man tells you that his village's crops are failing, and blames it on the evil Warlock who lives in nearby Firetop Mountain, which looms over the Moonstone Hills.  The villagers sent their bravest men to face the Warlock, but only one returned, and he was a shadow of his former self.  Not only does this tie the book into Allansia better, but it also gives the hero more motivation than simple treasure hunting.  In the book, the Warlock is just minding his own business until the hero breaks into his house and tries to murder him.  In this, he's a little more explicitly sinister, and whatever it is he's doing in Firetop Mountain is having an adverse effect on the nearby village.

The village is named explicitly as Anvil, which solves a mystery that's been bugging me for decades.  I had always known Anvil from the map in Out of the Pit, but couldn't find which book it came from. I suspected that it was supposed to be the village from Warlock, but I had also gotten the idea that it was populated by Dwarves (from the name, I suspect).  Nope, it's populated by human farmers, and it is indeed confirmed here to be the village near Firetop Mountain.  At least I was half right.

As for where this adventure fits in Fighting Fantasy "continuity" (such as it is) I have two ideas.  The first is that it's a parallel reality from, one where the keys are simply in a different place.  Of course the idea of there being any solid continuity for Fighting Fantasy is absurd given the nature of the adventures.  But if there is one, then alternate/parallel realities must be a given.  Everyone's experience of the books is different, and every play-through is unique, so there must be thousands or perhaps millions of subjective realities in the FF multiverse.

That said, I prefer something that at least ties the magazine to the book.  Rather than the book and magazine realities running in parallel, I prefer the idea that the magazine branches off from the book under specific circumstances.  In this case, the circumstances would be the Warlock killing the hero, then redistributing his keys in different places.  It's perhaps a bit laboured as an explanation, and it's absolutely unnecessary, but it's also the sort of thing obsessive nerds like me enjoy thinking about.

NEXT: I'm still mired in Warlock Magazine #2, as I'll be tackling the preview of Caverns of the Snow Witch.  Gah, I haven't done a main series Fighting Fantasy since November!