Saturday, March 28, 2015

Starship Traveller - Attempt 1

The fate of the starship Traveller and her crew lies in YOUR hands!
Sucked through the nightmare of the Seltsian Void, the starship Traveller emerges at the other side of the black hole into an unknown universe.  YOU are the captain of the Traveller and her fate depends on YOU!  Will you be able to discover the way back to Earth from the alien peoples and planets you encounter, or will the starship be doomed to roam uncharted space forever?

Starship Traveller, the fourth Fighting Fantasy gamebook and the second solo effort by Steve Jackson, ditches the fantasy setting of the previous three books and instead presents a sci-fi space exploration adventure.  It's a bold move; the series was massively successful at this point, and the safe thing to do would have been to churn out another fantasy.  That's not Steve Jackson's style, though.  Jackson has always been an innovator, and no two of his gamebooks are alike (unless you count Sorcery!, but that's really just one huge gamebook split into four).

As innovative as it may have been, however, the end result comes across as rushed and sloppy.  Spoilers, folks: I've never really liked this one.  But, for the sake of the blog and my desire to complete every FF there is, I'll soldier on.

Your role in this adventure is the captain of the starship Traveller, pride of the AstroNavy.  Basically, you're Captain Kirk, which is something I approve of greatly.  Not only do you control Kirk, but you also get to play as Spock, McCoy, Scotty and a few red-shirt security officers.  Or, you know, reasonable facsimiles of said fellows, if you're not of a mind to embrace the Trek-ness.

The first major difference between this book and the ones that came before is that you have a lot of stats to roll.  Not only do you roll your own Skill and Stamina, but you have to do the same for your Science Officer, Medical Officer, Engineering Officer, Security Officer and two Security Guards.  These are done in the same way as usual: one die roll added to 6 for Skill, and two die rolls added to 12 for Stamina.  Skill in this book determines how good each character is at their job; as such, characters that don't have a focus on combat (your Medical, Science and Engineering Officers) suffer a -3 penalty to Skill in combat.  The Security types fight for a living, so they don't suffer the penalty, and the Captain is, of course, very handy with his fists.  This is original-flavour Trek, not The Next Generation with its namby-pamby "diplomacy" and "counsellors". 

My crew was rolled up as follows:

Skill - 11
Stamina - 20

Skill - 10
Stamina - 16

Skill - 10
Stamina - 17

Skill - 12
Stamina - 15

Skill - 11
Stamina - 17

Skill - 8
Stamina - 16

Skill - 7
Stamina - 15

That is one elite crew.  Sure, the security guards are wimps, but everyone else on this ship knows his job, and knows it well.  I've got a good feeling about this one. 

I need to roll stats for my ship as well, for Weapons Strength and Shields.  The former is determined by rolling one die and adding 6.  The latter is determined by rolling one die and adding 12.  My luck with the dice continued, as I rolled up a ship with Weapons Strength 12 and Shields 18.  I kind of wish that I could save all these sixes for when I'm playing Deathtrap Dungeon.

Finally, I need to determine Luck, by rolling one die and adding 6.  My result was a 9, which is acceptable.  I don't recall Luck being much of a factor in the book at all, so I don't think this average score will hinder my chances of success.

With my crew ready, it's time to begin the adventure.

Awesome scribbles.


The adventure began with my starship in desperate straits, a malfunction having locked the warp engines into a constant increase in velocity.   We were headed right into a black hole known as the Seltsian Void, and not even the best efforts of my Science Officer were enough to help us escape.  The ship was sucked through the black hole and spat out into another dimension, and it was now my goal to get my crew home safe and sound.  It's all a bit Voyager, but thankfully this book came out at a time when Star Trek was still good.

Even though this book is in a different genre, it still begins with the classic FF dilemma: which way should we go?  I had the option of a life-bearing system ahead, a life-bearing system to port, or a barren system.  I was pretty sure that the barren system would be of no help, and I was reluctant to waste fuel on turning the ship, so I opted for the system straight ahead.  (In other words, I have some of this book committed to memory, and I know which way to go.)

We soon discovered a blue planet that showed signs of life.  The most heavily populated area was a city on an island, and I decided to beam down with my Science Officer, my Medical Officer and my Security Officer.

Yeah, this illustration goes here.  I think.

We materialised on a wide street, lined by small buildings with a larger building at the end of the road.  Entering the large building, we found it occupied by many alien creatures who were involved in a debate.  Their political system was one of extreme equality and democracy: everyone's voice was given equal weight, and so debates took years, and things were accomplished very slowly.  I wasn't particularly interested in their petty problems.  Instead I went to the map room, where I learned a bit about the nearby planets: Trax, which was devastated by a war; Culematter, orbiting a purple star; and Macommon, orbiting a double star.  It wasn't the most helpful information, so I decided to beam back up to the Traveller and depart the planet.

(At this point I could have restored some Stamina: your crew members all heal a little bit every time you leave a planet.  As nobody had been injured, it wasn't necessary.)

Next we opted to explore the planet Trax, orbiting the same sun just a little farther out.  There were signs of civilization, but no signs of life.  I beamed down with my Science Officer and my Security Officer to investigate.

We materialised in a deserted city, but were soon accosted by a humanoid figure in a flowing white cape.  He seemed friendly enough, until my Security Officer gunned him down, claiming that he had been about to shoot me.  I had the alien beamed up to the ship, to see if he could be saved, but apparently nothing arrived in the Transmat Room.  It was as though he had never existed at all.

We continued down a street, but were forced to take cover when we came under machine-gun fire.  Or, at least, I took cover; the others could not hear or see anything, and when they pointed it out to me, the machine guns stopped.  We continued our explorations, and found a library, in which we discovered that there was supposedly a black hole in Sector 288.  This was valuable information: a black hole might be our only chance of getting home.

We returned to the ship, and with the help of a newspaper found on the planet, we solved the mystery.  The planet's fate had been debated by two factions: the tech-loving Progressives (yay!) and the back-to-basics Regressives (boo!).  The Progressives had developed a powerful hallucinogen that they intended to inflict upon the Regressives, but when the plot was discovered, the drugs were all stuck in a rocket and shot into outer space.  Unfortunately, the rocket exploded, and the drugs spread throughout the planet's atmosphere, which explained all the weird goings-on that I and my crew had experienced.

Our next destination was Culematter, the planet orbiting a purple star.  It was civilized, so I decided to beam down with my Science Officer and Security Guard, and materialised in a deserted street (what, another one?).  It wasn't deserted for long, as a hover-car appeared on the street ahead, moving towards us.  An insectoid creature stepped from one of the small buildings, and frantically beckoned us to safety.

He's beckoning frantically, I guess.

Reasoning that patrol cars are never good news, we followed the insectoid, who explained that we were being chased by Population Controllers, who would exterminate us to prevent the planet becoming overcrowded.  He should have spent more time running and less time expositing, because the PCs caught up to us and lasered our insect friend to death.  We were taken captive and driven to a cell where more aliens awaited extermination.

I tried to contact the ship, only to discover that the signal was being jammed.  It was a stroke of luck, however; somehow, my communicator caused all of the aliens around to become motionless.  We were soon collected and directed to line up.  At this point my Science Officer might have had a good idea, but despite his Skill of 10, he failed to roll under his Skill on two dice.  He reasoned that our captors must have energy packs under their helmets, and we tried to overpower a guard and pry his helmet off.  The guard was tough (Skill 11), but it was three on one, and we were soon able to knock off his helmet.  It rendered him motionless, but did us no good, as more guards arrived to capture us.  We were bundled back into line, and marched into the extermination chamber.

Our adventure ended here.

Argh, my first failure!  The irritating thing is that I shouldn't have died here at all.  The options that I was given read as follows: "Do you have your Science Officer with you? If so, turn to 33.  If you have already tried to contact the ship, turn to 238.  Otherwise, turn to 309."  If I had taken the option presented for having already tried to contact the ship, I would have escaped the planet with little difficulty.  But because the first two options were equally true, I went with the first one, assuming that it would be the best option simply because it was first.  The Lone Wolf series always did things that way, and it's influenced my ideas of good gamebook design.  I suppose that I can't expect every designer to think that way.

Still, I died.  There are no take-backs, no do-overs.  I'll go back to the start and try again, and perhaps next time I will succeed.  That's the rule I'm setting myself here: no cheating.  No re-rolling bad dice, no marking my previous choices with my finger, no pretending that I have items I don't.  It's just me, my memories, and a whole bunch of random chance.  That's all I need to make Starship Traveller my bitch, and I'm going to try again next week.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Exploring Titan 3: The Forest of Doom

The Warlock Firetop Mountain focused solely on its dungeon environment.  The Citadel of Chaos did the same thing, but set it in the context of a wider world.  The final book in what I like to refer to as the "original Fighting Fantasy trilogy" dispenses with the dungeon altogether, and takes the largest step thus far in establishing Allansia and Titan as a setting.


The hero of the book begins his adventure as a sword for hire, roaming the northern borderlands of his kingdom.  The kingdom isn't named, nor is it detailed.  The only kingdom mentioned so far in the series is the Vale of Willow from The Citadel of Chaos, ruled over by King Salamon, but as yet the series isn't in the business of drawing its books together.  We'll get there soon, but not quite yet.

While camping in the wilderness, our hero's rest is interrupted by dwarf named Bigleg.  Bigleg is dying, having been shot full of poisoned arrows, but he manages to gasp out his final message.  He and his friends were on their way to Darkwood Forest, on a quest to retrieve the Hammer of Gillibran, when they were ambushed by "the little people".  Bigleg implores the hero to seek out the master mage Yaztromo, and then to find the hammer and return it to Gillibran, the Lord of Stonebridge.

Again, it's some solid world-building, introducing a number of recurring staples of the Allansian continent.  Interestingly, the hero of the book has heard of neither Gillibran nor Yaztromo.  It can't be that he's from a faraway land, as the kingdom mentioned above is his home.  At this point, Yaztromo isn't the world-famous wizard he'll become, and Gillibran is probably only a big deal to the dwarfs.  He is only the king of a small village, after all.  I'm also curious about the "little people" Bigleg refers to.  Who are they?  The Wild Hill Men?  Pygmies?  It seems odd that a dwarf would call either of those "little".

(On an irrelevant note, I hate typing the word "dwarfs".  I much prefer the Tolkien-derived "dwarves", but for now I am deferring to Ian Livingstone, Commander of the Order of the British Empire.)

Bigleg also provides us with our first ever map:

Not exactly loaded with detail, is it?  Still, it's an adequate representation of the lands that this adventure take place in.  Note that the hills on the far right aren't named, and neither is the river.

The rest of the background is explained later by Yaztromo.  I'll talk about him later, but right I want to examine the history of the hammer.  It is apparently "fabled", and without it the king can't get his people to fight back against the hill trolls that threaten them.  I find this odd for such a naturally war-loving people, but if the hammer is magical the dwarfs may have come to rely on it a little too heavily.  Or perhaps they're just stubborn, as dwarfs tend to be.

The hammer was stolen by an eagle sent by the king of another village of dwarfs (which we later learn is named Mirewater, and lies to the west of Darkwood Forest).  The eagle was killed by death hawks while flying over Darkwood, and the hammer was retrieved by a pair of goblins, who split it in two and kept half each.  


Yaztromo lives in a tower to the south of Darkwood Forest, where he makes a living selling single-use magic items (for very reasonable prices).  He doesn't seem to be overly concerned with the plight of Stonebridge, as he doesn't offer any particular aid to the hero after finding out the purpose of his quest.  He's initially grumpy, though not too quick to take action if the hero menaces him; he gives the hero a warning before transforming him into a frog.  Transforming his foes seems to be a regular thing for Yaztromo, as there's a crow in the forest who was once human, and is saving gold to pay the wizard to change him back.  Overall we're seeing a decidedly neutral version of the wizard, not yet embroiled in the fate of Allansia, or trying to aid the cause of Good.


Darkwood Forest is widely regarded as a dangerous place full of unknown perils, but it's really not so deadly as it's made out to be.  Yes, it's infested with all manner of monsters, but there are a number of  friendly folk who call the place home, most notably Quin the arm-wrestler.  There's even a fellow there who is hunting for wild boar; he has his dogs with him, but surely there are safer places to do so.  The bandits set up on the northern exit of the forest are also curious.  Who are they expecting to rob?  Is the trail really that well-traveled?  The final straw is the young lad who wanders by if you get caught in the Ogre's trap, munching casually on a chicken leg.  What the hell is he doing there?  All in all, I feel as though the forest has an exaggerated reputation.
  The forest is bisected by an unnamed river, and surrounds a very large central clearing.  Indeed, most of the area shown on the map is open, and the forest seems to form something of a doughnut shape.
  The history of the forest isn't explored at all, but there are a lot of mysteries that go unexplained.  What is with the Gremlins, and their obsession with smashing clay hands?  Why are the Fire Demon and his Clone servants growing mushrooms?  Who was it that was buried in the Ghoul's tomb?  These are all intriguing to me, and I'm sure there are more that I've forgotten.


The monsters of The Forest of Doom are mostly derivative of D&D, but there are a few new additions.  Goblins, orcs, vampire bats, barbarians, ghouls, werewolves, giant spiders, cave trolls, and dwarfs have all appeared in Fighting Fantasy books previous.  The Fire Demon has appeared before, but only as an illusion cast by the hero of The Citadel of Chaos.  Giants have appeared before, but this is a Forest Giant; any difference to the Giant in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is unspecified, although this one does seem to be significantly taller.

Some other monsters appear here for the first time, but are derived directly from mythology or D&D: the hag, the gremlins, the centaur, the wyvern, the hobgoblins and the gnome.  The gnome has more innate magical power than those in D&D, with the ability to turn the hero's sword into a carrot.  There's also an Earth Elemental trapped in a vase, whose release causes an awful lot of wind.

Quite a few of the "monsters" are simply real-world animals, albeit that some are giant-sized: killer bees, hunting dogs, a wild boar, a bear, and wolves,  The blood eel seems to be simply a more aggressive version of a regular eel, and the death hawks are much the same.  I suppose the pterodactyl counts as a real-world animal as well, and it gives us our first inkling that dinosaurs roam the Fighting Fantasy world.

Several of the new monsters are simple human/animal hybrids that aren't particularly detailed.  The Catwoman does little more than lounge on a branch and attack passers-by.  The Fish Man is similarly devoid of detail; he lives in a crude lair behind a waterfall, eats fish, and fights with a trident.  The Ape Man lives in a tree house and fights with a bone.  Really, mashing animals and people together is the most basic method of fantasy monster creation, and I'm not surprised to see Ian Livingstone going to that well more than once.

And now to some more original entries, relatively speaking.  The Sting Worm is new, though not particularly inspired: it's a worm with a sting.  The Tree Man is also pretty much what it says on the tin: a hostile Tree Man.  The Boulder Best is a little more fleshed out: it disguises itself as a big rock, and waits for creatures to draw near before rising on stumpy legs and trying to crush them.  It's literally made of stone, and crumbles when it dies. Its origin is left a mystery, though the hero speculates that it could have been the result of experiments by an "evil elementalist".

There are a few human enemies that suggest things about the Fighting Fantasy world.  There are the Wild Hill Men, who dwell in the hills to the east of Darkwood Forest and harass travellers by shooting arrows at them.  They're a primitive people who seem to be modelled on the stereotypical image of the American "hillbilly".  The Barbarian I mentioned above suggests that there are other primitive types in the Conan mold; there was another one in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.  There are also Pygmies in Darkwood Forest, who attack the hero with blowpipes.  They're the epitome of the stereotypical jungle savage: brown skin, grass skirt, bone-through-the-nose, and one of the most incongruous things in the book.  What are these fellows doing in an otherwise temperate climate?  It's a mystery, for now.

The Shape Changer is the creature on the front cover of the book.  Naturally, it has the power to change its shape, and uses this power to draw in potential prey.  In the book it disguises itself as Goblin, then waits until the hero comes close before assuming its natural reptilian form and attacking.  The curious thing is that, while in Goblin form, the handle of the Hammer of Gillibran hangs around its neck as part of the disguise.  Is it simply that the Shape Changer has heard the rumours, and expects any passing adventurers to be looking for the hammer?  Or can it read the hero's mind?

Lastly, we have the most fascinating encounter in the book: the Fire Demon and his Clones.  The Clones appear as small, pale-skinned humanoids, and there are two types, Workers and Warriors.  The Workers tend a crop of multi-coloured mushrooms, and are completely non-aggressive.  They simply go about their mushroom-tending business no matter what's going on around them.  If one is killed, however, its corpse sprouts into a purple mushroom that sprays its attacker with poisonous gas.  The Warriors will fight, and seem to be there to guard the Workers and the Fire Demon.  They don't turn into mushrooms upon death; instead they simply dissolve into a pool of liquid.  The Fire Demon is the boss of this whole set-up, and appears as a winged humanoid creature of *ahem* shadow and flame.  It wields a whip in one hand and a flaming sword in the other, and when it dies it is consumed by its own fire.  It's not made clear in the book just what this whole mushroom-growing scenario is for.  Indeed the Fire Demon may not even be a demon at all.  If the hero puts on the demon's crown he is transformed into a demon himself, so the Fire Demon here could just be another poor cursed individual.


I'll be continuing these Exploring Titan posts as I make my way through the books, but for the moment I'll be taking a break from them.  The next book I'm tackling is Starship Traveller, which has not a scrap of Titan within its pages.  It's all space, all the time, and I am mercifully free from the burden of having to write one of these posts.  It gives me a little something to look forward to from the sci-fi books, at any rate.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Exploring Titan 2: The Citadel of Chaos

The second book in the Fighting Fantasy series has a similarly cliched plot to the first, but it's presented in a context that does a lot more to establish it as a part of a living, breathing world.  The Warlock of Firetop Mountain may have been first, but The Citadel of Chaos does a lot more to establish the sort of place that Titan is, even though Titan did not yet exist when it was released.

From the beginning we learn about the "lawful goodfolk" of the Vale of Willow, who have been living in fear of the demi-sorcerer Balthus Dire for eight years.  The phrase "lawful goodfolk" is an interesting one, in that it evokes the alignment system of Dungeons & Dragons, while also working as perfectly decent English for those people who have never rolled a polyhedral dice.  Whichever way you interpret the phrase, it gets the message across.  The Vale of Willow is good people.

Balthus Dire's description as a "demi-sorcerer" is one I've always liked.  It's never said outright what it means, as far as I can remember, but it's obvious from the beginning that he's different from the other wizards out there.  It becomes apparent when you meet him that he's as much a warrior as he is a wizard, and that's where the "demi" comes in.  But more on Balthus Dire later.

The story begins with a spy, who is returning from his mission within the Black Tower, Balthus Dire's fortress.  The spy reports that Dire has gathered an army of "Chaotics" in the caverns of Craggen Rock, and is preparing to launch his attack within the week.  Once again Steve Jackson is evoking the D&D alignment system, with his description of Dire's forces as Chaotics; at this early stage, Fighting Fantasy is incredibly beholden to its source material.  (Incidentally, the spy is a half-elf, the first mention of such in a Fighting Fantasy gamebook.  As there are no elves in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, we have the strange situation were half-elves appear before normal elves are ever established.  Indeed, we'll meet a Black Elf later, but still no regular, plain old elves.)

From there we meet King Salamon, described as both a "man of action" and a "wise man".  He is here shown as the king of the Vale of Willow, and not of Salamonis (which has yet to be mentioned).  King Salamon sends riders into the Great Forest of Yore, home to more half-elves and also to the Grand Wizard of Yore.  The Grand Wizard, described as a "white sorcerer of great power", is also said to be too old for the coming conflict.  But he does have a number of pupils, and that's where the protagonist of The Citadel of Chaos comes in.

That's a decent amount of world-building, at least on a regional scale.  We have the Vale of Willow, whose good folk are ruled by King Salamon.  Nearby is the Great Forest of Yore, peopled by half-elves and the Great Wizard of Yore, along with his pupils.  And looming above it all, atop Craggen Rock, is Balthus Dire's citadel, also known as the Black Tower.  There's no indication of how it connects to Firetop Mountain, but then again there's no indication that it's even set in the same world.

This is the first FF gamebook in which the hero can wield magic.    There was, of course, magic in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, mostly being used by the titular Warlock.  In The Citadel of Chaos the hero is able to arm himself with a number of spells before venturing on his mission.  It makes for a more flexible range of encounter options, but it doesn't do a lot for world-building purposes.  The system here is heavily based on D&D: you choose your spells before the game, and cross them off as they are cast.  The main difference from D&D is that you can still cast while wearing armour.  The reason it doesn't do much for world-building is that there is little consistency with later books.  There's the system introduced here, the codeword system from Sorcery!, the spell gems from Scorpion Swamp, and others I'm probably forgetting.  For the moment this is the way magic works on Titan, and it fits with all of the other examples we've seen thus far.  It won't be long until it's obvious that there isn't just one way that magic works in this world, that it can be taught and learned in any number of different fashions.  It's another part of Titan's ramshackle charm, I suppose.

The Citadel
What's striking about the Citadel of Chaos, also known as the Black Tower, is just how well it functions as a society in comparison to Firetop Mountain.  Almost every chamber here serves a purpose: there are guard rooms, a prison, a library, a gambling hall, a dining room, and even a wine cellar.  Even the inhabitants serve a purpose, with guards, merchants, a butler, and more.  There are still moments that make little sense, but on the whole the Black Tower feels alive.

It even has a bit of a history established.  The Black Tower was built by Balthus Dire's grandfather.  It gradually became a haven for creatures of Chaos, and Dire's grandfather built a number of traps outside his living chambers to protect himself from his minions.  Meager details, but effective in establishing the nature of the place.

Balthus Dire
A lot can be learned about Dire throughout the book.  He is the third in a line of Sorcerer-Warlords that have ruled the Black Tower and the "Kingdom of Craggen Rock".  If Dire is a legitimate king, it's not something that future books really dwell on.  Just who is he king over?  The most obvious candidates are the various humanoid monsters lurking in and around Craggen Rock.  In the dining hall there are paintings of various lords and earls of the kingdom, but it's not indicated whether these are human or otherwise.

He is said to have risen to power after the death of his father, Craggen Dire, "some years ago".  The time-frame is kept vague, but in the Background section it is said that the people of the Vale have been living in fear of Balthus Dire for eight years, so that seems like a good estimate.  Shortly after that he married the black sorceress known as Lady Lucretia, who is said to be vain, and appreciative of the things that money and power can buy.  It's not said whether they have children, but there is a room full of toddlers right next to Lucretia's bedchamber.  The kids look orcish, but you never can tell with sorcerers involved.  I choose to believe that these are Balthus and Lucretia's kids, despite their appearance; why else would they be placed in the citadel as they are?

Dire is haughty and arrogant throughout the book, and just a general bastard all around.  It's not just his desire to conquer the Vale, which is your garden variety villainous sorcerer bit.  There's also an encounter with a ghost, whose entire family was burned to death by Dire when she failed to launder his clothes on time for an important meeting. That's a special brand of bastard right there, and goes a long way towards justifying the assassination mission that the hero is undertaking.

Whereas The Warlock of Firetop Mountain stuck mostly to standard D&D fare, The Citadel of Chaos does a lot to establish a variety of monsters that are unique to the Fighting Fantasy series.  Though it does feature a number of creatures that were also in Warlock (dwarfs, orcs, goblins, winged gremlins, snakes), and some others that are D&D or mythological staples (hags, leprechauns, black elves, gargoyles, ghosts, golems, hydras, giant scorpions, gorgons), the rest are new.

A number of these monsters are strange hybrids, and probably the result of experimentation by Balthus Dire.  The ape-dog and dog-ape guarding the front entrance, the spider-man, and the rhino-man are examples of this.  Even the brutish gark is said to be a mix of goblin and giant, and one would hope that it is a magical experiment, because the logistics hardly bear thinking about.

A few of these monsters do not actually appear here, but are used as illusions or transformations by Dire or the book's protagonist.  The protagonist can at one point create the illusion of a giant scorpion, and during his battle with Dire he can take the form of fire demon (which is not described in any detail).  Dire takes the form of a gorgon during the final battle, and here the book is drawing more on mythology than on D&D, as this gorgon appears not as a metallic bull but as a hideous woman with snakes for hair, that can turn the protagonist to stone.

Some other monsters appear that are not gone into in great detail.  The Clawbeast is a hairy brute with four-arms that end in vicious talons; it's hair can entangle a sword, but it's easily dispatched with a Weakness spell.  The Devlin is a small fire imp, that can't be killed with a weapon but can be extinguished with liquid.  There's a mysterious whirlwind woman in the courtyard who never gets a name, and exists mainly to harass the hero.  The hags have a snapperfish living in their broth (though it could have been summoned, or perhaps illusory); it's a lot more vicious than the average Earth snapper.  The wheelies are interesting from a whimsical perspective.  They're small wheel-shaped beings that cartwheel towards their foes while hurling knives, and while they're a lot of fun, they're not gone into in any great depth.  It's probably for the best, as they kind of defy explanation and logic.

There are a few of the monsters here that bear further exploration.  The first of these are the Miks, who are said to be able to transform into anyone, or anything, they wish.  They're also said to be masters of illusion, but given that one can poison the hero to death while in the form of a snake, the transformation ability seems more likely.  As such, they never appear in their true forms, though they are described in a book as being "thin and elf-like".  The same book also says that their favourite weapon is a needleknife, that they can't use metal in their disguises, and that they can't cast illusions over objects other than themselves, but none of these things become relevant when the hero meets the Miks.  The only other thing that we really learn about them is that they have a lust for gold.

The Calacorm guards the Black Tower's prison.  It's a large, two-headed snake man with grey skin, and is said to be fairly contented as long as it has a comfortable life with plenty of dead snakes to eat.  They don't even seem to care much for gold.  They take great delight in the screams of torture, and are deathly afraid of mice.  It's not a lot, but there's more going on here than with the average orc or goblin.

The Scouts are seemingly the only friendly people living inside the citadel.  They appear as small humanoids, and panic at the prospect of danger, though they have a number of magical powers.  They can summon a gale-force wind, and possess at least one piece of cube-shaped bread that can fully heal whoever eats it.  They also have an amulet that will protect the wearer from the Ganjees, and are quite reluctant to part with it, although they are "obliged by their gods" to help.  Most puzzling of all is their seeming fondness for Balthus Dire.  Even though the scouts are obviously good, they grow hostile if the hero talks about defeating Dire.  It's an odd moment, but it does serve to humanise Dire just a little; even the vilest sorcerer must have his good days, I suppose.

Finally, there are the mysterious Ganjees.  They are spoken of ominously throughout the book, and seem to be malevolent spirits that drain their victims of magic.  They are said to haunt the citadel by night, and oddly to eat their supper in the great hall, which doesn't quite match up with the rest of their portrayal.  The Ganjees are never really explained; even if you try to look them up in the citadel library you'll find that their page has been torn out of the relevant book.  But if there's one thing that people who have played this book remember, it's the Ganjees.  Not only because of the nightmarish illustration, but because that's where the reader will probably die the most, over and over again.

The next installment will be an examination of The Forest of Doom, which pulls back on the unique monsters, but goes full force in establishing the building blocks of Allansia and Titan.  It's time for some Ian Livingstone world-building, folks.  Bring a very large backpack.