Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain - Scenic Solution

Years ago (okay, decades if we're being accurate) I started writing solutions to various gamebooks.  It's not an original idea, and there are a number of places on the internet where you can find Fighting Fantasy walkthroughs.  Mine weren't quite like the others, though.  Most of the walkthroughs you'll find take you by the quickest route, and the easiest path.  They're designed to take you through the book by the optimum path.  That's not what I was doing.  My "scenic solutions" as I dubbed them had quite a different goal: to find the successful path that allows you to see as much of the book as possible.

As you might have guessed, writing these took some time, and intensive study of the books.  I only got through a few before I abandoned the whole thing.  There wasn't really an outlet for them anyway, this being the days before I had ready internet access.  But now I have a blog, and a gamebook blog at that.  I figured that I might as well dust off these scenic solutions, and while I'm at it write some new ones as I go.  I realise that I'm delaying my progress through the Fighting Fantasy series even further, but hell.  I'll go for depth over breadth.

So here it is, the first in a series: the Scenic Solution for The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, as written by me circa 1996.

Starting Equipment: You begin the adventure with a sword, leather armour, a rucksack, a lantern, ten provisions and the choice of one potion from the following options: a Potion of Skill, a Potion of Strength or a Potion of Fortune.

The quest for the Warlock's treasure begins! (You lousy robber.)  (Turn to 1)
Turn east at the junction.  (Turn to 278)
Charge the door down.  (Turn to 156)
Your SKILL roll succeeds and the door opens.  (Turn to 343)
Lose 1 STAMINA for the fall.  Leave the room.  (Turn to 92)
Return to the junction and head west.  (Turn to 71)
Approach the sleeping Orc sentry.  You are Unlucky and the Orc wakes up.  (Turn to 248)
Kill the Orc (Skill 6, Stamina 5).  (Turn to 301)
Open the door. (Turn to 82)
You attempt to steal the Orc’s box, but are Unlucky. (Turn to 33)
Fight the Orc (Skill 6, Stamina 4). (Turn to 147)
Leave the room and open the box.  Take 1 gold piece and restore 2 LUCK. (Turn to 208)
Open the door. (Turn to 397)
Open the box. (Turn to 240)
Kill the Snake (Skill 5, Stamina 2). (Turn to 145)
Take the Bronze Key with the number 99 carved on it.  Add 1 LUCK. (Turn to 363)
Continue north, and marvel at the aural delights of Orcish drunkenness.  Investigate the hideous din. (Turn to 370)
Draw your sword and leap forward at the Orcs. (Turn to 116)
Kill the two drunken Orcs (Skill 5 Stamina 4; Skill 5 Stamina 5). (Turn to 378)
Open the box. (Turn to 296)
Learn the Dragonfire Spell, then leave the room. (Turn to 42)
Go west at the junction. (Turn to 257)
Investigate the angry shouting. (Turn to 168)
Spring at the mean ol’ Orc Chieftain in the hope that his poor little servant will aid you. (Turn to 65)
The Chieftain attacks you, and so does his servant!  Ungrateful bastard.  Continue the fight! (Turn to 372)
Kill the Orc Chieftain (Skill 7, Stamina 6) and his Servant (Skill 5, Stamina 3).  (Thus did I learn a most valuable lesson: never trust an Orc.) (Turn to 21)
Smash the lock on the Orc’s chest with your sword. (Turn to 339)
You are struck by a poison dart!  Roll a die and subtract the result from your STAMINA. (Turn to 201)
You may eat Provisions.  Take the 25 Gold Pieces, the Potion of Invisibility, and the Black Silk Glove. (Turn to 293)
Return to the junction and head east. (Turn to 113)
At the next junction, go east. (Turn to 78)
Go through the door. (Turn to 159)
Be bold and prepare to attack the five Orcs! (Turn to 365)
Kill the five Orcs (Skill 6, Stamina 4; Skill 5, Stamina 3; Skill 6, Stamina 4; Skill 5, Stamina 2; Skill 4, Stamina 4). (Turn to 183)
Restore 1 SKILL and 5 STAMINA.  Open the case. (Turn to 266)
Take the Giver of Sleep.  You may eat Provisions.  Restore 1 LUCK. (Turn to 237)
Return to the junction and head north. (Turn to 285)
Open the door. (Turn to 213)
It is locked.  Your SKILL roll succeeds. (Turn to 36)
Shout at the man to calm him down.  (A friend of mine dubbed him Mad Johnny Chairleg). (Turn to 263).
Listen to what the man knows of Firetop Mountain.  Restore 1 LUCK. (Turn to 314)
Open the door. (Turn to 223)
It is locked.  Force it open. (Turn to 53)
Your SKILL roll succeeds. (Turn to 155)
Take the Shield and discard the Black Silk Glove. (Turn to 300)
Open the door. (Turn to 102)
Draw your sword and fight the Goblins. (Turn to 19)
Kill the two Goblins (Skill 5, Stamina 5; Skill 5 Stamina 6). (Turn to 317)
Take the Cheese. (Turn to 303)
At the portcullis, pull the left lever (we’ll assume you’re forgetful). (Turn to 243)
Roll a die.  If you rolled odd, lose 3 SKILL and 1 STAMINA.  If you rolled even, lose 1 SKILL and 2 STAMINA.  Pull the right lever. (Turn to 128)
Turn east at the junction. (Turn to 58)
Stop and eat Provisions. (Turn to 15)
It's an enchanted bench,  Restore 6 STAMINA and 1 SKILL. (Turn to 367)
Turn east at the junction. (Turn to 323)
Continue east at the junction. (Turn to 255)
Open the door. (Turn to 193)
Try to take the jewel from the Iron Cyclops. (Turn to 338)
Kill the Iron Cyclops (Skill 10, Stamina 10). (Turn to 75)
You may eat Provisions.  Take the Eye of the Cyclops, and the Small Key with 111 carved on it.  Restore 3 LUCK. (Turn to 93)
Return to the junction and go north. (Turn to 8)
Kill the Barbarian (SKILL 7, STAMINA 6). (Turn to 273)
Take the Wooden Mallet and five Stakes. (Turn to 189)
You enter the next room.  Look at the paintings. (Turn to 25)
You tremble in fear at Zagor’s mighty visage.  Lose 1 SKILL.  Look through your pack for a weapon to use against the warlock. (Turn to 340)
Hold a jewel up in front of the painting. (Turn to 31)
Restore 2 SKILL.  You leave the room. (Turn to 90)
You may eat Provisions. (Turn to 253)
You enter a pear-shaped room.  Examine the bits of wood. (Turn to 328)
Don’t take the Y-Shaped Sticks.  Examine the rope. (Turn to 125)
You are Lucky, and defeat the rope. (Turn to 73)
You reach the river. (Turn to 218)
Swim across. (Turn to 316)
Your STAMINA roll succeeds. (Turn to 151)
Swim toward the turbulence. (Turn to 158)
Kill the Piranhas (Skill 5, Stamina 5).  You may eat Provisions. (Turn to 218)
Risk the bridge this time. (Turn to 209)
You don’t roll a 6, and manage to keep your footing. (Turn to 47)
You roll a 6, and plunge into the river below. (Turn to 158)
Fight the Piranhas (Skill 5, Stamina 5).  You may eat Provisions. (Turn to 218)
Punt the raft across this time. (Turn to 386)
Trust in your strength to get to the other side. (Turn to 55)
You roll over your LUCK or STAMINA, and fall in. (Turn to 166)
You roll a 5 or a 6. (Turn to 158)
Fight the Piranhas (Skill 5, Stamina 5).  You may eat Provisions. (Turn to 218)
Give up and ring the bell. (Turn to 3)
Threaten the tight bastard. (Turn to 127)
Prepare to attack. (Turn to 188)
Kill the Wererat (Skill 8 Stamina 5). (Turn to 342)
Take 2 Gold Pieces.  Restore 2 LUCK.  Row to the north shore. (Turn to 7)
You are on the north shore. (Turn to 214)
Take the passage north-west. (Turn to 271)
Go through the door. (Turn to 336)
Wake up the old man. (Turn to 172)
Tell the old man his boots are undone. (Turn to 165)
Tell the old man of your quest. (Turn to 141)
Try to pacify the old man. (Turn to 111)
The man orders his dog to attack. (Turn to 249)
Kill the Dog (Skill 7, Stamina 6).  Restore 1 LUCK. Stay in the room. (Turn to 304)
Kill the Werewolf. (Turn to 203)
Restore 1 LUCK.  You may eat Provisions.  Take the Boat House Keys.  Leave through the west door. (Turn to 38)
Take the Pickled Eggs.  You return to the Werewolf’s room and leave through the south door. (Turn to 66)
Go down the passage running eastward. (Turn to 99)
You investigate the door. (Turn to 383)
Charge the door down. (Turn to 264)
Lose 1 SKILL. Use the Boat House Keys. (Turn to 80)
Tell the Skeletons that you’re the new boss. (Turn to 195)
You roll a 3 or a 4.  The Skeletons aren’t sure whether to believe you. (Turn to 164)
Beat a hasty retreat. (Turn to 129)
You return to the river and open the north door. (Turn to 104)
You open another door. (Turn to 49)
You are knocked out.  Lose 2 STAMINA. (Turn to 122)
Try to talk to the Zombies. (Turn to 268)
Try to open the south door. (Turn to 13)
Kill the first Zombie (Skill 7, Stamina 6).  Restore 2 LUCK.  Kill the three remaining Zombies (Skill 6, Stamina 6; Skill 6, Stamina 6; Skill 6, Stamina 5). (Turn to 115)
Go over to the dead body. (Turn to 313)
Take the Sword and the Crucifix.  Restore 1 LUCK and 1 SKILL. (Turn to 221)
Examine the sword. (Turn to 27)
The sword is enchanted, and will add 2 to your Initial SKILL.  Restore 2 LUCK.  Throw away your old sword. (Turn to 319)
Investigate your second item. (Turn to 221)
Examine the Crucifix. (Turn to 170)
It is worth 4 Gold Pieces. (Turn to 319)
You have investigated both items. (Turn to 81)
You investigate the north door. (Turn to 205)
Investigate the room further. (Turn to 254)
Approach the Vampire as he wishes. (Turn to 352)
Lose 1 STAMINA.  Look in your bag for some other means of attack. (Turn to 279)
Try to kill the Vampire with a wooden stake. (Turn to 17)
You are Unlucky, and your stake doesn’t kill the Vampire.  Keep fighting! (Turn to 144)
You are Lucky. (Turn to 101)
The Vampire is killed. (Turn to 327)
Take the 30 Gold Pieces, the Book, and the Y-Shaped Stick.  Discard the Crucifix.  You may eat Provisions.  Restore 3 LUCK. (Turn to 380)
You go west. (Turn to 37)
Go south at the junction. (Turn to 277)
Search for secret passages. (Turn to 146)
Return to the junction and go west. (Turn to 11)
You watch the tools.  Restore 2 STAMINA and 1 SKILL.  Return to the junction and go south. (Turn to 250)
You reach a dead end, then return to the junction and head north. (Turn to 366)
Continue east. (Turn to 62)
Try the door. (Turn to 6)
Go back up the passage and use the opening. (Turn to 89)
You descend some stairs. (Turn to 286)
Search the first body. (Turn to 294)
Take the 5 Gold Pieces.  Restore 1 LUCK.  Tiptoe through the room. (Turn to 107)
Return and search the bodies, starting with the third. (Turn to 148)
The body springs up and attacks! (Turn to 230)
Kill the Ghoul (Skill 8, Stamina 7). (Turn to 390)
Take the Earrings.  You may eat Provisions.  Restore 2 LUCK.  Search the second body. (Turn to 393)
Take the 8 Gold Pieces.  Read the Parchment. (Turn to 212)
Take the Map.  Test the liquid. (Turn to 369)
You swallow some liquid. (Turn to 109)
Look, a reference to Kaynlesh-Ma!  Restore your STAMINA to 2 below your Initial level.  Restore your SKILL to 1 below your Initial level.  Restore 4 LUCK.  Go north. (Turn to 120)
You climb some stairs. (Turn to 197)
Check the walls for secret passages. (Turn to 295)
You attract a wandering monster. (Turn to 161)
Kill the wandering monster.  It could be a Goblin (Skill 5, Stamina 3), an Orc (Skill 6, Stamina 3), a Gremlin (Skill 6, Stamina 4), a Giant Rat (Skill 5, Stamina 4), a Skeleton (Skill 6, Stamina 5) or a Troll (Skill 8, Stamina 4). (Turn to 48)
Go west. (Turn to 60)
The portcullis blocks your way. (Turn to 48)
Go east. (Turn to 391)
Check for secret passages as you walk north. (Turn to 362)
A secret door opens. (Turn to 177)
Continue north. (Turn to 52)
Go east. (Turn to 291)
Investigate the dead end. (Turn to 315)
Check for secret passages. (Turn to 306)
You attract a wandering monster. (Turn to 161)
Kill the wandering monster.  It could be a Goblin (Skill 5, Stamina 3), an Orc (Skill 6, Stamina 3), a Gremlin (Skill 6, Stamina 4), a Giant Rat (Skill 5, Stamina 4), a Skeleton (Skill 6, Stamina 5) or a Troll (Skill 8, Stamina 4). (Turn to 291)
Try the door to the north. (Turn to 227)
Offer to play cards with the five Dwarfs. (Turn to 100)
Play fairly. (Turn to 346)
Gamble for a bit.  Restore 2 LUCK if you win. (Turn to 131)
Listen to the Dwarfs.  You may eat Provisions, but will only gain 2 STAMINA as you must share your meal. (Turn to 291)
Go west. (Turn to 52)
Check for secret passages on the way north. (Turn to 234)
You attract a wandering monster. (Turn to 161)
Kill the wandering monster.  It could be a Goblin (Skill 5, Stamina 3), an Orc (Skill 6, Stamina 3), a Gremlin (Skill 6, Stamina 4), a Giant Rat (Skill 5, Stamina 4), a Skeleton (Skill 6, Stamina 5) or a Troll (Skill 8, Stamina 4). (Turn to 43)
Go north. (Turn to 354)
Check for secret passages on the way west. (Turn to 14)
You attract a wandering monster. (Turn to 161)
Kill the wandering monster.  It could be a Goblin (Skill 5, Stamina 3), an Orc (Skill 6, Stamina 3), a Gremlin (Skill 6, Stamina 4), a Giant Rat (Skill 5, Stamina 4), a Skeleton (Skill 6, Stamina 5) or a Troll (Skill 8, Stamina 4). (Turn to 117)
Go west. (Turn to 308)
Go north at the junction. (Turn to 54)
Go through the door. (Turn to 179)
Kill the Minotaur (Skill 9, Stamina 9). (Turn to 258)
Take the 8 Gold Pieces and the Red Key with 111 inscribed on it.  You may eat Provisions.  Restore 2 LUCK. (Turn to 54)
Go south. (Turn to 308)
Go west. (Turn to 187)
Investigate the dead end. (Turn to 171)
Investigate the wall. (Turn to 337)
Gas knocks you out.  You awaken in unfamiliar surroundings. (Turn to 267)
You are at a crossroads.  Go north. (Turn to 312)
You travel north. (Turn to 308)
A familiar junction!  Go back south. (Turn to 160)
You go south. (Turn to 267)
Go east. (Turn to 349)
Investigate the dead end. (Turn to 30)
Pull the rope. (Turn to 67)
Return to the crossroads. (Turn to 267)
Go west. (Turn to 79)
Search for secret passages. (Turn to 137)
Gas knocks you out, but this time you wake up in more familiar surroundings. (Turn to 354)
Go west. (Turn to 308)
Go south. (Turn to 160)
You travel south. (Turn to 267)
Go south. (Turn to 246)
Go back east.  (Turn to 70)
You follow the passage east, north, east and north.  (Turn to 267)
Go south.  (Turn to 246) 
Go west. (Turn to 180)
Investigate the dead end. (Turn to 22)
Knocked out again!  You wake up in unfamiliar surroundings. (Turn to 4)
Investigate the north passage. (Turn to 46)
Go back around the bend. (Turn to 4)
Go south. (Turn to 332)
Go through the door. (Turn to 329)
Open the door in the west wall.  (Turn to 157)
Don't go through the door. (Turn to 329)
Go up to the door to the north. (Turn to 392)
Go through the door. (Turn to 206)
You haven’t been in this room before. (Turn to 341)
Demand that the man answer your questions. (Turn to 191)
Leave through the south door, but don’t follow the man’s directions. (Turn to 392)
Go south. (Turn to 329)
Continue south. (Turn to 238)
A familiar junction!  Go back north. (Turn to 329)
Go up to the door to the north. (Turn to 392)
Go through the door. (Turn to 206)
You have been in this room before. (Turn to 284)
Leave by the south door. (Turn to 392)
Go south. (Turn to 329)
Go east. (Turn to 299)
Check for secret passages along the way. (Turn to 260)
You find none.  You are on your way north. (Turn to 359)
Go south(Turn to 94)
You walk south, then west.  Don't check for secret passages.  (Turn to 329)
Go east.  (Turn to 299)
Proceed northwards without checking for secret passages.  (Turn to 359)
Go east. (Turn to 121)
Investigate the dead end. (Turn to 103)
Pull the lever. (Turn to 252)
Go south. (Turn to 226)
You travel south. (Turn to 267)
Go south. (Turn to 246)
Go north. (Turn to 329)
Go east. (Turn to 299)
Proceed north. (Turn to 359)
Continue north. (Turn to 190)
Investigate the dead end. (Turn to 167)
Return to the junction. (Turn to 359)
Go west. (Turn to 385)
Go south. (Turn to 114)
You travel south, then east.  (Turn to 359)
Go west. (Turn to 385)
Go north. (Turn to 398)
Pull the knob. (Turn to 12)
You attract a wandering monster. (Turn to 161)
Kill the wandering monster.  It could be a Goblin (Skill 5, Stamina 3), an Orc (Skill 6, Stamina 3), a Gremlin (Skill 6, Stamina 4), a Giant Rat (Skill 5, Stamina 4), a Skeleton (Skill 6, Stamina 5) or a Troll (Skill 8, Stamina 4). (Turn to 12)
Return to the junction. (Turn to 256)
Go north. (Turn to 398)
Push the knob. (Turn to 364)
Climb through the doorway. (Turn to 373)
You go north. (Turn to 85)
Go east at the junction. (Turn to 318)
Search for secret passages. (Turn to 228)
Return to the junction. (Turn to 85)
Go west. (Turn to 59)
You come to a junction. (Turn to 150)
Go south. (Turn to 133)
You are knocked out and wake up elsewhere (this one’s a really dirty trick, I reckon). (Turn to 52)
Check for secret passages on the way south. (Turn to 362)
A secret passage opens. (Turn to 177)
Go through the secret passage. (Turn to 175)
Go to the crossroads. (Turn to 267)
Go south. (Turn to 246)
Go north. (Turn to 329)
Ge east. (Turn to 299)
Proceed north. (Turn to 359)
Go west. (Turn to 385)
Go west. (Turn to 297)
Continue west. (Turn to 150)
Go north. (Turn to 222)
You travel north and then east. (Turn to 85)
Go north. (Turn to 106) (I'm pretty sure that I've covered every damned paragraph in the Maze of Zagor.  Congratulations to anyone who stuck that all the way out, you’re a real glutton for punishment.)
Search your memory for another way to attack the Dragon. (Turn to 126)
Yes, the name ‘Farrigo Di Maggio’ means something to you. (Turn to 26)
You defeat the Dragon. (Turn to 371)
You may eat Provisions.  Restore 3 LUCK.  You leave to the west. (Turn to 274)
Knock on the door and greet the man courteously. (Turn to 356)
It’s the Warlock!  (Cue organ music). (Turn to 358)
Look around the room for another means of attack. (Turn to 389)
You are Unlucky. (Turn to 112)
Search your backpack for a weapon to use. (Turn to 105)
Use a piece of Cheese (we’ll assume you've forgotten about the Eye of the Cyclops). (Turn to 368)
Lose 3 STAMINA.  Try something else from your backpack. (Turn to 105)
Use a Bow with a Silver Arrow (the Giver of Sleep). (Turn to 194)
The Warlock stops it.  Try something else from your backpack. (Turn to 105)
Use a Y-Shaped Stick. (Turn to 215)
It’s broken.  Try something else from your pack. (Turn to 105)
Use a Potion of Invisibility. (Turn to 39)
Kill the Warlock. (Turn to 396) (I prefer this to using the Eye of the Cyclops.  It’s only sporting to give Zagor a chance, innit?)
You use two of your keys on the Warlock’s door. (Turn to 242)
Hack at the box with your sword. (Turn to 379)
You are Lucky, but your sword is destroyed.  Use your keys. (Turn to 139)
Use the three keys you have found. (99+111+111=321.  Turn to 321)
Ominous page-turning… (Turn to 169)
Your keys fit! (Turn to 400)

Congratulations, you’re quest is over, and the Warlock's treasure is yours!

Paragraphs Included: 243 out of 400 (60.75%)

Monday, December 7, 2015

Exploring Titan 6: Island of the Lizard King

Island of the Lizard King, the seventh installment in the Fighting Fantasy series, continues the trend started in the previous book: the establishment of a shared world.  The sixth book, Deathtrap Dungeon, had the hero begin his adventure in Port Blacksand, the place where the fifth book, City of Thieves, was set.  Island of the Lizard King goes it one better, as the hero begins his journey at the site of Deathtrap Dungeon, then travels through Port Blacksand in order to begin the adventure.  It's not likely that the hero of all three books is the same guy.  After all, the hero of City of Thieves isn't about to make his way back into Port Blacksand, and any character that beats Deathtrap Dungeon should be enjoying his well-earned fortune rather than embarking on another dangerous quest.  The hero's identity is less important than the shared setting being created, and the sense that all of the adventures so far have been linked in some way, even if it's just geographically.

Island of the Lizard King is not one of the more notable additions to that setting, but it does introduce a number of places: the village of Oyster Bay and the titular Fire Island.  Neither is revisited much in later books, but they both bear some further scrutiny.

It's established at the outset that Oyster Bay is a quiet fishing village about sixty miles down the coast from Port Blacksand (does "down" in this case mean south or north?).  It's at the end of a long peninsula and accessible only by a steep, winding path, so it's mostly cut off from the dangers of the "hinterland". (Note that Livingstone describes the village as being populated by "fishermen and their wives." Hey it's the early 80s, gender essentialism was all the rage.  I can't talk, I'm constantly referring to the book's hero as a male.)  The hero is described as journeying south from Fang, and deciding to head for Oyster Bay.  It says that it takes him two days to get there, but there's no indication of how far south of Fang he was when the urge to visit Mungo came over him.  The distance remains ambiguous.

The village is described as a cluster of stone cottages nestled between the foot of the cliffs and a jetty, where a dozen fishing boats lie at anchor.  A rough estimate of the population can be made from this; with only a dozen boats, there can't be more than a hundred people living here, surely?  Even if some of the boats are out at sea the population can't be much higher.  Their cuisine is predictably high on seafood: the hero eats a meal of lobster and salad while preparing for the adventure.

The people are friendly, peaceful folk, with no gold or material wealth. The only one who is notable as a character is Mungo, an old adventuring partner of the hero.  Mungo is angry that the young men of Oyster Bay have been kidnapped by Lizard Men, and is determined to sail out and rescue them. He's otherwise friendly and talkative, and quite a lovable fellow. It doesn't seem at all implausible that he'd get out of the adventuring game and go live in a peaceful village somewhere.  (It should also be noted that his father was a circus strongman who died while attempting the Trial of Champions.  It's a fairly pointless addition, but it gives Mungo some background and serves to further tie the setting together.)

That brings me to Fire Island, seemingly less than a day's sailing west of Oyster Bay.  Years ago it was established as a prison colony by one Prince Olaf, who wanted to rid his land of undesirables.  (Yet another reference to royalty.  As usual, I will chalk it up to the kingdom of Salamonis unless given better evidence.)  Olaf paid a tribe of Lizard Men to act as his prison guards.  (Why Lizard Men?  Were they native to the island, or was it a case of Olaf trying to use guards adapted to the tropical environment?).  It turned out that Olaf just had too many ne'er-do-wells in his kingdom, and couldn't afford to maintain the island.  When the pay dried up, the Lizard Men took over in a bloody coup, led by a former guard who declared himself the Lizard King.  The Lizard King set the prisoners to work in his mines, but with the original prisoners being worked to death he has sent raiders out looking for replacements.

The Lizard King is also rumoured to be a practitioner of "voodoo and black magic", and is conducting genetic experiments to create an invincible race of Lizard Men.  The experiments have yet to work, but some of these grotesque mutants have survived.  The potions used in the experiments also found their way into the water supply, mutating the local flora and fauna into man-eating plants and giant beasts.  (To be honest, most of this sounds more interesting than the adventure we got in this book.  A greater focus on the Lizard King's experiments could have been really cool.)

It's not clear exactly how long ago all of this happened.  It's recent enough that Mungo knows the story well, but long enough ago that Fire Island had almost been forgotten until the recent raids.  One of the prisoners, an elf, was captured at least four years ago.

Here's a helpful map to lay out the geography of the island:

The hero and Mungo could have saved a lot of time and grief by sailing around the south of the island and landing near the prison colony.  Gotta fill those 400 entries though, am I right?  It takes a couple of days for the hero to get from one side of the island to the other.

There are a lot of monsters and characters on Fire Island. They can be divided into a few different categories.

A number of the creatures encountered are almost certain to be native to Fire Island, and unaffected by the Lizard King's experiments: the tarantula, the rattlesnake, the bear, and the crocodile.  We can also add the headhunters in here, as well as the pygmies: they are probably the indigenous peoples of the island.  It's not known how they relate to each other, but given the hostility of the latter and the friendliness of the former, it's not hard to extrapolate.  The Shaman gives no indication which of these peoples he comes from, or is affiliated with.  In all probability he is a hermit, and has contact only with those who specifically seek him out.  (Pygmies can also be found in Darkwood Forest, in the book Forest of Doom.  It's possible that those came over from Fire Island, possibly to escape the Lizard Men.)

As mentioned above, the Lizard King's experiments mutated much of the flora and fauna of the island.  Those most likely to be in this category are: the vine that tries to strangle you, the giant leeches, the giant wasp, the giant crab, the giant lizard, the giant dragonfly, and the giant watersnake.  There are a lot of other monsters that are almost certainly native to the island, but may or may not be mutated: the grannits, the hydra, the razorjaw, the black lion, the spit toad, the styracosaurus, the hill troll, the ogre, the slime-sucker, the sabre-toothed tiger, and the marsh hopper.

A lot of these could just be regular monsters: after all, there's no mutation excuse for why the mainland is full of such nasties.  Island of the Lizard King does pack in a lot battles for one island, though; we can chalk up the density of monsters to the Lizard King's chemicals.

I'm not sure if the Black Lion is mutated or not.  It could just be a regular old panther, but the Lizard King seems like the kind of guy who would experiment on his pets.

As for the Styracosaurus, I'm only half convinced that this guy is native to Fire Island.  I'd gotten it into my head that this book was full of dinosaurs, but on closer inspection I see that it is the only one here.  Perhaps it's more likely that the Lizard Men brought it with them to the island.

Grannits are a new monster, resembling coconut-sized rocks with eight legs and a mouth full of razor sharp teeth.  They're described as "armadillo-like man-eaters," although due to their size they aren't very strong.  They are amusingly susceptible to rattlesnake venom.

A hydra has appeared before (in The Citadel of Chaos).  This one here has fewer heads, and is far less deadly.  Presumably it's in its natural swampy habitat.

The razorjaw that is encountered has just hatched from an egg in a sulfurous pool, but it's unsettling enough: an eyeless green worm with a mouth full of fangs.  It's described as "a hideous creature that has evolved to kill all other species", which is perhaps overselling things a little. It's first instinct is to go for the neck, though, which gives me the heebie-jeebies.  I would never go adventuring without neck armour.

The spit toad, another new monster, is simply a big toad that sits in an algae-covered pond and spits a blinding poison at anyone who gets too close.  It has fangs and will try to eat its victims.  They mustn't be too rare, because the hero is well aware that they never share their ponds with other creatures.

The slime sucker lives in the swamp, and might be the goofiest-looking Fighting Fantasy monster yet.  (No wait, the wheelies).  In the text it is said to resemble a "hideous octopus-like beast with dark green lumpy skin", and to have six arms/tentacles.  It's MO seems to be to hide underwater and rise up when prey gets near, and there's not much more to it than that.

Finally, the Marsh Hopper is a new monster that borrows heavily from the myths of the will-o'-the-wisp.  Marsh Hoppers are small humanoids, with wide mouths, pink forked tongues, and sad eyes.  No creature is better at crossing treacherous marshland than they are.  They will indicate to travellers that they know a safe way through the swamp, but more often than not they will lure them into a predator's lair for the price of a few scraps of meat.

There are a lot of Lizard Men in this book, both of the pure and mutated variety.  One of the mutants even has two heads.  I'm not inclined to classify the Lizard King as a separate race to his flunkies.  He's described in the opening as a former prison guard, so I doubt he's anything more than a very strong Lizard Man who dabbles in some black magic.  To round out their forces they have goblins, hobgoblins, orcs, a shape changer, and a cyclops.  Any of these could be native to the island, of course, but it's more likely that they came with the LIzard Man forces, or were perhaps taken from the ranks of Prince Olaf's prisoners.

Several escaped prisoners can be encountered on the island, some friendly and some hostile.  There are a surprising number of dwarven prisoners working in the mines, as well as some elves.  They could be former prisoners, but are most probably the victims of more recent Lizard Man raids.

The pirates encountered on the island are of course not native, and have probably sailed out from Port Blacksand.

The cave woman is a strange one, in that she appears to be the only one of her kind on the island.  I'd be inclined to place her as a native, but her skin tine is markedly different than those of the headhunters and pygmies.  Cavemen and neanderthal types have been encountered in other books (notably The Warlock of Firetop Mountain and Deathtrap Dungeon), but it's unclear how they relate to more civilised humans, so this cave woman remains a question mark.

The girl with the sabre-toothed tiger is almost definitely not a native.  The hero thinks that she might have been left on Fire Island as a child, and become as wild as the animals.  In lieu of a better explanation, this will have to suffice.

The water elemental is the first monster that is hard to categorise. No indication is given of where it came from, or why it's lurking in the river.  It's just there, perhaps the result of some long-ago magic. 

The gonchong is the other, perhaps the biggest mystery of the book.  It's described as a parasite that the Lizard King allowed to bond with him in return for power and immortality.  It appears as resembling a giant harvest spider, with a proboscis that connects it to the brain of its host; only severing the proboscis seconds after the host is killed can it be destroyed.  The host of a gonchong remains invincible, but it can be harmed by one weapon: a fire sword.  Where did the gonchong come from?  It's unlikely that the Lizard King had it before coming to Fire Island; he was described as a former prison guard.  Perhaps he had it shipped to him from his homeland?  Maybe the gonchong is an island native?  The Shaman is pretty surprised to hear that there's one on the island, so probably not.  My personal belief is that the Lizard King summoned it with his black magic, making the gonchong some kind of demonic or extra-planar entity.  It explains the Shaman's shock upon hearing about it, anyway.

That's pretty much it for Island of the Lizard King, except for a couple of magical items that can be found.  The first is the Horn of Valhalla, which when blown can bolster the morale of your allies.  The name has all sorts of connotations for the Fighting Fantasy cosmology.  Are the Norse deities real, and Valhalla the actual afterlife?  Or does this simply reflect the beliefs of whatever Viking-equivalent peoples exist in the FF world?  I'd go for the latter.

The last is Sog's Helmet, which causes fear in the enemy and grants to its wearer the ability to always win the first Attack Round. The helmet is over one hundred years old, and belonged to a fabled warrior/sorcerer.  Named Sog.  I guess he needed such a helmet to strike fear into his enemies, because "Sog" wasn't going to do it for him.

Next: I have Warlock Magazine #1 up next, which may or may not be correct.  I had to do some guess-work for the magazine dates, I'm afraid.  Wikipedia lists issue #1 as being released in mid-1983, while the indicia has a date of 1984.  I have it listed in March of 1984, but who knows where I got that date from.  If anyone has more concrete info on the release dates of the Warlock mags, I'd really appreciate the  sharing it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Island of the Lizard King: Final Thoughts

Island of the Lizard King feels like the end of the first phase of Fighting Fantasy.  It's the last book to feature the trade dress in which every book had its own spine colour.  It's the last in the series before someone other than Steve Jackson or Ian Livingstone comes on as a writer (okay, so the next book is still by Steve Jackson, but it's a different Steve Jackson).  It's also the last book before Allansia becomes a thing, and the setting is tightly nailed down.

There were a lot of lasts in that paragraph, but this book is also a first, and an unfortunate one: it's the first book that feels like it's coasting on a formula.  It's a very good formula, make no mistake.  But every book before this one felt fresh, and brought something new to the table.   Island of the Lizard King isn't bringing anything new, it's just taking the FF model and making a solid gamebook out of it.

I'll give it one thing, though: it may have the strongest story of the series so far.  Of all the books in the series to date, it's the one that I could most easily see being adapted as a movie.  From Mungo's death, to the liberation of the slaves, to the search for the shaman and the overthrow of the Lizard King, there's a logical progression of events with an emotional hook (well, as emotional as anything written by Ian Livingstone can get).

What makes a strong story, though, does not necessarily make for a strong gamebook.  Island of the Lizard King follows a plot, and as such it's very linear.  There's not a lot of scope for exploration, and anyone playing through this book multiple times is going to find himself rereading the same sections over and over again.  I found myself skimming past the bits I'd already done, and just doing the dice-rolling parts, because going over the same sections can get very boring.

It's also hard, and not in a good way.  This is not a book that challenges the reader mentally.  What it does challenge is your patience, because success in Island of the Lizard King is almost entirely dependent upon the luck of the dice.  Your only chance of influencing events is in knowing which encounters to avoid, and managing your resources wisely.  It's a war of attrition, and requires a lot of trial-and-error.  I will applaud Livingstone for placing a tough battle and an instant death right at the beinning of the book, though.  If a gamebook requires high stats to win, having a way to suicide a weak character at the beginning is a godsend (at least for those readers too anal to just keep rolling dice until good scores come up).

While I'm focusing on negatives, I should also mention the unfortunate portrayals of native characters in the book.  From pygmies to headhunters to witch-doctors to the shaman, there's not one who isn't shown in a way that's uncomfortable to modern readers.  None of it's intentional, of course.  The book is going for a pulpy jungle adventure vibe, and revelling in those tropes.  Said tropes, however, originated over a hundred years ago, and can come across as racially insensitive.  There's no malice in it, but those portrayals are a part of the book, and there's no denying that some won't enjoy it because of that.

I feel like I've been overly negative.  As I mentioned above, Island of the Lizard King is a solid book.  There's a lot to like about it, but it's a decent, conventional book that's coming after a pair of bona fide classics.  It's bound to feel a little disappointing.

(I've also left discussion of Alan Langford's illustrations to the end, as I tend to do.  I personally place him in the Big Four of FF illustrators, said four being Russ Nicholson, Iain McCaig, Langford and Martin McKenna.  It could just be personal taste, but for me those four define the visual style of the series more than any other artists.  He does good work here, and I've always thought that he was very good at drawing reptiles.)

I missed very little, it must be said, because I had 17 attempts at completing the book.  Yes, only about five of these attempts were legitimate; the rest got no further than the pit of quicksand right near the beginning.  Nevertheless, I exhausted most of the options available.  The biggest things that I missed were a pair of magic items.  The first was Sog's Helmet, which is very well-hidden in a rattlesnake hole.  Wearing it allows you to win the first Attack Round in every combat.  The second item I missed was a bone charm, which is given to you by the headhunters' prisoner (I never did manage to rescue him successfully).  Wearing it means that your Luck never drops below 7, which is pretty great.

I almost forgot, there's a whole section of the adventure on the way to the Shaman that I never experienced.  It happens if you insist on paddling your boat upstream.  If you roll badly enough you can find yourself fighting against starvation, thirst and the elements for survival, not to mention an irate Water Elemental.  It's pretty cool, though I have to say I'm almost glad I never stumbled into it.

I didn't notice any major errors in Island of the Lizard King, but there were several items that seemingly serve no purpose.  The brass bell taken from around the bear's neck is one.  There's the option to stick a Grannit in your Pouch of Unlimited Contents, which is amusing but never amounts to anything.  A coil of rope is found but never gets used, which I find baffling.  What kind of an adventure has no use for rope?

This book has a mere ten instant death paragraphs.  I was sorely tempted to choose the quicksand death, simply because I deliberately experienced it so many times.  But, as usual, I'm a sucker for a failure that results in the protagonist becoming the villain.

I had to reproduce the whole page, because I love how this paragraph is flanked by images of carrion birds, just to rub it in.

This is the first time I'm doing this, but I've decided to introduce a rating system with which to rank the gamebooks I read.  I will be rating the books in seven categories, as follows:

Story & Setting (how cool was the story, and the setting it took place in?)
Toughness (was it challenging in a good way?)
Aesthetics (how good were the illustrations, and the book's general atmosphere?)
Mechanics (how well did the rules function?)
Innovation (how innovative was it?)
NPCs & Monsters (how cool were the characters I met and the monsters I fought?)
Amusement (how much fun did I have reading it?)

STAMINA, geddit?  I'll be rating each of these categories out of 7, because it's a nice mythological number and it has an exact midpoint.  I'll also award a bonus point if I feel the book deserves it.  This gives me a total possible score of 50.  I'm going to double it, because I really want to have a score out of 100.  No particular reason, it just feels correct.

Okay then, let's rate Island of the Lizard King.

Story & Setting: As I mentioned above, the story for this book is quite strong, even though it works better as a story than as a gamebook.  One of its biggest strengths is that the various encounters all feel thematically appropriate.  The jungle setting is a new one for Fighting Fantasy, though it's not the most original.  It's drawing very heavily on pulp adventures, and as such the tropes can feel a bit familiar.  Rating: 4.

Toughness: In terms of finding the correct path, this book is quite forgiving.  You can wander wherever you like, and it's never going to result in a failure just because you chose to go left instead of right.  That said, in mechanical terms the book is ruthless, and requires a Skill of at least 10 for the reader to have even an outside chance of success.  The book relies more on the luck of the dice for its challenge than anything else, which isn't a lot of fun.  Rating: 3.

Aesthetics: Alan Langford's illustrations are great at evoking a steamy tropical wilderness, and his reptiles look wonderful.  He's a perfect fit for the book.  The book has a top-notch Iain McCaig cover as well (at least on the original, which is what I use when doing my rating).  Livingstone's prose is adequate.  It gets the job done, but it doesn't do a lot to set the mood.  Rating: 5.

Mechanics: The FF system is a solid one, and Island of the Lizard King employs the most basic, stripped down version of it.  It doesn't use it all that well, however.  As I've mentioned before, the book doesn't cater for characters with a low Skill score; such characters may as well throw in the towel early.  There are also a number of items that grant Skill bonuses where a bonus to Attack Strength would have been more appropriate.  For example, finding the superbly-crafted sword grants you a Skill bonus, but if your Skill is already at the maximum it's meaningless: you might as well keep using your regular sword.  A bonus to Attack Strength would have worked better, and had the added advantage of making a low-Skill character more viable.  Rating: 3.

Innovation: This book uses the simplest version of the FF rules, and does very little that's mechanically novel.  The sole element of the book that feels fresh is it's jungle setting.  Rating: 2.

NPCs & Monsters: You might get sick of fighting reptiles, dinosaurs and lizard men, but there's a wide variety of monsters throughout the book.  It probably relies a little too heavily on giant versions of real creatures, but there's a thematic unity that serves the story well.  I have to give points for Mungo, as well, who is well fleshed out for the short amount of time that he's in the book.  The shaman should really have been more interesting, though, and the Lizard King is a virtual nonentity as the villain.  Rating: 4.

Amusement: It's a solid gamebook, and I had a decently entertaining time reading it.  It's never one I'm hankering to get back to, but playing through is usually a good experience (at least until I've died a few times).  Rating: 4.

I can't think of a reason to give this book the bonus point.  Adding up the scores above gives a total of 25, which doubled gives the book a score of 50.  This seems appropriate to me, to be honest.  It's about as middle-of-the-road as a gamebook can get.

STAMINA RATING: 50 out of 100.

I'll be going back and rating the previous books in the series, so keep an eye out for that.  My next post will be an Exploring Titan on Island of the Lizard King, and then it's onto Warlock Magazine #1.