Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (revised) - Attempt 3

I've rather enjoyed revisiting The Warlock of Firetop Mountain over the last few weeks, and this revised version has given me an experience that I haven't had with this adventure in many years: failure.  Twice I've defeated the Warlock, but both times I've only had two of the three keys needed to unlock his treasure chest.

I have an idea where the third key might be, though.  There's only one key that shows up in the illustrations, and it's in a dead-end room protected by a poison gas trap.  Finding that key is my goal for this attempt, and hopefully it's the one I need, because if it isn't then I'm all out of ideas.

I made some stellar rolls for my character this time around, and managed Skill 12, Stamina 21, and Luck 11.  If I fail on this attempt, there'll be no blaming it on poor stats.

I began my adventure with a concrete goal in mind, and I set my sights on it with a laser focus.  I stuck to the corridors, ignoring the many side-rooms, and I was able to make it to the portcullis without having any encounters at all.  I've never realised just how much of this book you can skip if you really want to, and how inessential most of the encounters are.  The only items that are required for victory are the keys, so there's a level of freedom to this book that a lot of later ones in the series lack.

After the portcullis I turned left, and once again proceeded to ignore as many doors and side-corridors as possible.  Soon I came to another junction, where I turned right.  This put me into territory I've yet to cover for the blog, so from here on I'll go into a little more detail.

The tunnel turned north, and I continued north at the next junction until the passage ended at a door.  Inside was a room lined with books, and an old man at a desk.  On his shoulder was a small, winged figure - a Winged Gremlin.

The old man asked me if I was game for a wager.  I had no money, so I declined.  As I was on the lookout for keys however, and I wanted to leave no room un-looted, I drew my sword for a bit of unprovoked murder.  The old man fled through a secret door, but I had to fight the Gremlin, which I killed easily.  I couldn't find the old man's escape route, but in his desk there were 5 gold pieces which I was happy to pocket.

Back at the junction I turned west, and followed the tunnel as it bent around to the north again.  The passageway ended at another door.  The room beyond was large, with a floor covered in a mosaic of tiles.  The most prominent shapes of the tiles were hands and stars.

I wanted to reach the door on the far side of the room, so I walked across.  I suspected a trap, so I was careful to walk only on the star tiles, and avoid the hands.  Nothing happened, and I was able to cross the room in safety.

At yet another junction I continued north, and the tunnel ended at a door with a leather skirt tacked along the bottom.  Inside I found what I was looking for: the room with the key!

I leaped in to grab the key, but the door slammed behind me, and the room started filling with gas.  I had to hold my breath while taking the key, but I was able to escape without inhaling any of the gas.  (This required rolling equal to or under my Skill on two dice, which was impossible to fail with my Skill of 12.)  The key had the number 66 engraved on it.

From there I continued through a couple of junctions until I came to a subterranean river.  I leaped in and was swept downstream, where I was washed up on the shore of the river, and back into familiar territory.

I crossed the river by paying the boatman, and made sure to kill the Werewolf and his Dog in order to claim key 111.  From there I chose the route with the zombies rather than the boathouse, and I mowed through them as well.  Following the zombie fight I chose to search the dead body propped in the corner.  Last time I had taken his sword and crucifix; this time I opted for his armour and gold.  The armour wasn't special, and the gold amounted to 10 gold pieces.  I had hoped there might be a key hidden on this corpse somewhere, but it looks like that's not the case.  (Unless it's in his shield, the only item I've not investigated, but I doubt it.)

I skipped right past the Vampire and the Ghoul, hurrying my way into the Maze of Zagor.  Fighting the Minotaur was a necessity, and he provided me with my first genuine challenge of the adventure, hitting me twice before I killed him.  Afterwards I searched the room, claiming 8 gold pieces and key 111.

It was a simple matter to get through the maze, and soon I was in confrontation with the Warlock's Dragon.  This time I hadn't learned Farrigo DiMaggio's Dragonfire spell, so I found myself in the rare situation of having to defeat the Dragon in battle.  I needn't have worried; it hit me once, but with the aid of a couple of Luck points I was able to knock it off quite quickly.  (This book is very generous with Luck bonuses, so the option of using Luck in battle is well worth it.)

It was time for the final confrontation: the Warlock.  I didn't fancy taking him on in a fair fight, so instead I burned his magic cards.  The weakened Warlock was a pushover, and soon I was standing in front of his treasure chest, ready to test out my keys.

I inserted key 66, and both keys marked with 111.  One by one they all turned, and the chest opened.  Success!  The treasure was mine!  As was the Warlock's book, with all of his secrets, and the rad option of staying to claim his power.  Part of me was hoping for a rewritten final entry; the Background had been redone, after all.  That said, it's an iconic ending, so it's not such a big deal. 


That was fun, but I'm glad it only took me three attempts.  I love this book, but even the greatest of gamebooks needs to be given a rest now and then.  I'll do a couple of quick round-up posts for this adventure, maybe an Exploring Titan, and then I'm going to move on to the preview of Caverns of the Snow Witch from Warlock #2.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (revised) - Attempt 2

Last week, I failed in my attempt to find the  treasure in the revised version of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, as seen in Warlock Magazine #1 and #2.  I had only found two of the correct three keys needed to open the Warlock's treasure chest: one guarded by a Werewolf, and another by a Minotaur.  So I'm back at the beginning, and my plan for this attempt is to fight the Iron Cyclops; that's where the correct key is in the original version of the adventure.  I almost hope that it's not there, as I'd prefer this version to be as different as possible.  Then again, I'd be perfectly happy to be done with this and on to the next gamebook.  It's a win either way.

My character for this adventure had a Skill of 10, a Stamina of 15 and a Luck of 12.  This time around I chose the Potion of Strength, as my Stamina score was quite poor.  Normally I would choose the Potion of Fortune, but my Luck was really good and this book is generous with Luck bonuses.

I'll skim past the opening stages of the book, because I did very little that was different from my last attempt.  Mostly this part involves killing loads of Orcs, and collecting various minor treasures.  I did manage to break into the armoury this time, which I had failed to do previously.  There's no key to be found there, but I did find a shield that will occasionally reduce the damage I take in combat.

At the junction past the portcullis I turned right, then followed a few more turns until I came to my ultimate goal: the Iron Cyclops.  The Cyclops is one of the toughest battles in the book, and in this case he really lived up to that.  This battle went right down to the wire: I only had 1 point of Stamina left when it was done, and I had used 3 Luck points to help me win.  Straight away I drank a dose from my Potion of Strength (restoring my Stamina back to 15), and I was pretty happy that I'd chosen it this time.  In most Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, provisions are sufficient to restore Stamina, but the restriction to eating one at a time in this book really limits their usefulness.

The Iron Cyclops still had a key inside it, just as in the original version, number '99'.  I also took the Cyclops's jewelled eye (not that I remembered to use it later on).

After leaving the room I headed north, plowed through a Barbarian, and ignored a few more rooms until I came to the river.  I paid the ferryman his fee of 3 gold pieces to help me cross, and from there I headed to fight the Werewolf and his Hellhound pet.  Like the Cyclops, this was a tough fight.  The Hellhound kept blasting me with its fiery breath, and by the time I killed them both I had but 4 Stamina left.  I finished off my Potion of Strength, and claimed the Werewolf's keys, including one that is needed to open the Warlock's treasure chest.

In my last game I had gone through the boat house, but this time I opted to head north, through the room with the Zombies.  There were five Zombies in all (the one with the scythe being my favourite), and I mowed them down with ease.  I could have searched some barrels, or the weapons of the Zombies, but instead I chose to loot the corpse of an adventurer that was propped in the corner.  The corpse had a number of interesting items, but I chose to take its sword and crucifix.  The sword was enchanted, and allowed me to add 2 points to my Skill in combat.  (It's possible that I missed a key in this room, as there's no way to inspect everything in one pass through.)

In the next room was a coffin, with the obligatory Vampire.  I held it at bay with my crucifix, and staked it through the heart (using sharpened sticks and a mallet that I had looted from the Barbarian mentioned earlier).  Alas, there were no keys inside the coffin, so I moved on.

I went down a flight of stairs, and ignored the three corpses found in the chamber at the bottom.  I knew from my previous attempt that they didn't have anything essential, and I didn't feel like fighting the Ghoul, so I just walked right on by.

After that was the Maze of Zagor, which I zipped through as quickly as possible.  The only place I visited here was the Minotaur's room, as I knew that he had one of the necessary keys.  He proved little trouble, and Key '111' was soon mine.

Soon I was out of the Maze, past the Dragon (defeated using Farrigo's Dragonfire spell), and on to face the Warlock.  I totally forgot that I had the Eye of the Cyclops, and could have used it to kill him instantly.  Instead I drank a Potion of Invisibility, and engaged him hand-to-hand.  The Warlock's stats are super-high (Skill 11, Stamina 18), but my invisibility powers coupled with my magic sword made me far too powerful.  Trucking through the Warlock without taking a scratch is always satisfying.

That's where my satisfaction ended, unfortunately.  The third key needed to unlock the Warlock's chest is not the one guarded by the Iron Cyclops.  I'm pleased by this, to be honest.  The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is always a book I'm up for reading, and I'm looking forward to exploring some paths less trodden while trying to find the right key.  I'm not entirely sure where it is, but I have one idea: there's a small room in the original book version that has a key guarded by a gas trap, and I feel pretty confident that this encounter will still be there.  Check in next week to find out!

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (revised) - Attempt 1, Part 2

It's been a couple of months since I tackled the first half of the revised version of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, as found in Warlock Magazine #1. Now that I'm covering Warlock #2, it's time to resume my quest.  Have I found the right keys to unlock the Warlock's chest and claim his treasure?  There's only one way to find out I suppose.

But first, here is my character as he was at the end of the first part:

SKILL: Initial - 10, Current - 10
STAMINA: Initial - 19, Current - 13
LUCK: Initial - 9, Current - 9

POTIONS: Potion of Fortune (2 doses)
EQUIPMENT: Sword, Leather Armour, Backpack, Lantern, Key '125', Bow, Silver Arrow, Key '9', Boat House Keys, Key '111', Silver Dart (used before combat, hits for 2 damage on d6 roll of 1-4)

At the end of my last post on this adventure I had just fought a Wight, and I was standing at the top of a flight of stairs, which I descended to find myself in a room with three corpses.  (One of which, I knew, was the Ghoul whose illustration had so terrified me as a young tacker.)  I initiated a thorough search of the bodies, because in this new version of the book there could be keys anywhere, and I didn't want to miss one.  I wasn't surprised when the Ghoul sat up to attack me, but nevertheless I failed my Luck test, and it scratched me with its nails (dropping my Stamina to 12 and my Luck to 8).

The battle that followed was surprisingly close, and the Ghoul managed to hit me three times before I could kill it (reducing my Stamina to 6).  A fourth hit would have resulted in my paralysis, and the Ghoul eating me alive (starting with the buttocks, I kid you not).  This raises the question: if it wounded me after I failed the Luck test, then hit me three more times during the battle, should I consider myself paralysed?  A strict interpretation of the book's text says no, but the spirit of the rules says that I probably should.  I usually rule these things based on the exact wording of the text, so I let myself live.  Besides, the first scratch only did 1 point of damage, so it wasn't a full blow.  I'll keep telling myself that so I feel better about rules-lawyering my way out of an instant death.

After the battle I ate a meal (leaving me with 6, and restoring my Stamina to 10).  A full search of the corpses netted me 13 gold pieces, a pair of earrings worth 1gp, a piece of parchment and some holy water. The holy water restored my Stamina to 17 and my Luck to 9 (and it would have restored my Skill had I lost any).  The parchment was a faded map of the Maze of Zagor, with a few cryptic notations.  (I don't need a map of the Maze of Zagor. The Maze of Zagor is an intrinsic part of my psyche. I'll forget the names of my family before I forget how to navigate the Maze.)

Before continuing, I quaffed both doses of my Potion of Fortune. I didn't need it to restore my Luck, I just wanted the bonus to my Initial score. Said bonus bumped me up to 11; I really do love the double-dose potions of Warlock, and there are later books that could really use them.

After the encounter with the Ghoul I entered said Maze, and set about hitting the high points.  The card-playing Dwarves were as friendly as ever, and the Mazemaster just as cowardly.  I also fought the Minotaur, who proved to be surprisingly tough. He hit me five times before I could kill him, and I had to burn a Luck point to knock him off faster. After the battle I ate a meal, and search of his room turned up 8 gold pieces and key marked with the number '111'.  (It's a little disappointing, to be honest, that this key is in the exact same place here as in the original.  In fact, I didn't notice any changes at all in this half of the adventure.  After this encounter, my Stamina was 11, and a Luck bonus had bumped that score back up to 11 as well.)

A new illustration of the Mazemaster from Russ Nicholson

With the Maze behind me, I encountered the Warlock's Dragon, which I quickly dispatched with Farrigo Dimaggio's Dragonfire spell.  Along the way I ate two more provisions, meaning that I would be fully refreshed for my battle with the Warlock.

Said battle proved to be quite simple.  He looked impressive, but after a Luck test (reducing my score to 10) I spotted his magic cards, and burned them. With his power reduced, I was able to kill him without being hit at all (burning a Luck point in the process to get the fight over with faster).  (I also remembered to use my silver dart in this battle, which I had been neglecting to do. It can be thrown before any battle, and on a die roll of 1-4 it wounds the enemy for 2 Stamina. Pretty handy.)

The Warlock was dead, and I had but to test my keys on his treasure chest.  I had found four keys, marked with the following numbers: 125, 9, and two marked with 111.

The first combination I tested was 111, 111 and 125. Two of the keys worked, but the third didn't, and I was injured by a jet of acid (reducing my Stamina to 17).

The second combination I tried was 111, 111 and 9. Again, only two keys worked, and the jet of acid reduced my Stamina to 15.

The final combination I could try was 111, 125 and 9.  This time only one key worked, and a pair of darts flew from the chest towards me.  I dodged them with a Luck test (reducing my score to 8), but was knocked unconscious when I hit my head on the floor (reducing my Stamina to 15).

I might as well not have woken up, because those were the only keys I had.  Our Hero had no recourse but to sit on the Warlock's treasure chest and have a big sook.  Looks like I'll have to crack into this one again...

Looking at the combinations above, the two correct keys I had were the ones marked with '111'.  One of those was found with the Boat House keys (guarded by the Werewolf and his Dog), and the other was found in the Minotaur's room.  Again, I'm disappointed that one of the correct keys is in an identical location to the original.  I have a sinking feeling that the other might be the same as well, so in my next game I'll be fighting the Iron Cyclops just to find out.  Be there!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Warlock Magazine #2

There's not a lot to write about in the second issue of Warlock; that's what happens when more than half of the mag's page-count is taken up by gamebooks that I'll be covering later.  What's left over isn't all that interesting.  I should probably have just tacked it on to the front of my post on the revised Warlock of Firetop Mountain, but I am something of a stickler for consistency, so Warlock #2 gets its own post.

Out of the Pit: The first article is probably not the most interesting thing in here, but it is the most relevant.  Normally the "Out of the Pit" columns introduce new monsters, but this month it has a table listing 100 monsters from the books that have been published so far.  It's not comprehensive - just off the top of my head I can see that the Mirror Demon is missing.  Still, most of the monsters are there, and the list only works if it's an even hundred. (It probably didn't need multiple varieties of Snake though.)

The books used to compile this list are the first seven in the Fighting Fantasy series (minus Starship Traveller), and the first two of the Sorcery! epic.  That's what I've covered so far, and it makes me feel pretty good about the accuracy of the release schedule that I pinned down.

The main table lists the monsters average Skill and Stamina, Attacks (for those using the Fighting Fantasy RPG), an asterisk denoting whether the creature has a special ability, and finally the book in which the monster made its first appearance.  None of the special abilities are described, and I don't mind that. Readers are left to look it up in the relevant gamebook, and nobody is spoiled who doesn't want to be.

The list seems to be mostly accurate, although a at least two of the first appearances are incorrect.  The Imitator is listed as first appearing in Island of the Lizard King, but it actually debuted in Deathtrap Dungeon.  I don't recall there being any Man-Orcs in Forest of Doom; I was sure that monster first appeared in City of Thieves.

The article ends with some smaller tables for generating random encounters in four different environments: Dungeons, Castles, Wilderness and Water.  Everything here is logical enough, except for the Wererat in the Water entry.  Presumably this came about due to the boatman in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.  Am I to understand that he is one of thousands of Wererat boatmen? Is it a family business, or a side-effect of becoming a Wererat that one is suddenly drawn to boats?  Maybe Wererat lycanthropy only affects people whose immune systems have been weakened by scurvy?  Who the hell knows, it's a baffling entry.

Warlock Profile No. 1: Peter Jones: The second article is a profile in Peter Andrew Jones, which is fair enough, even though I'd say he's the artist on the early books that I'm least interested in.  It does the usual job of mentioning his influences, his non-gamebook work, and the tools he prefers, but it's all surface-level stuff.

Sam, Cars and the Cuckoo: The most interesting thing to be found in the issue is an early short story by Garth Nix, who these days is a very successful and accomplished writer of children's fantasy novels.  He would have been in his early twenties when this was written, which is honestly older than I thought based on the material; it reads like something written by a very enthusiastic teenager rather than a grown-ass adult.

The story - such as it is - is about two guys driving home from work through a very weird, sort-of Mad Max setting.  There are glimpses of interesting material here: comments about consumerism, corporate culture, the media, religion.  Mostly they're drowned out by Nix's almost pornographic fascination with made-up cars and weapons.  His descriptions of those skirt well over into parody, as does the way he revels in anarchic violence.  Make no mistake, it's not good. It barely qualifies as a story.  But the voice is humourous, and there are enough glimpses of interesting ideas that you can see there's a good writer in there somewhere, buried very deeply.

The Rest: The remainder of the magazine is taken up by the second half of the revised version of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and a preview of Caverns of the Snow Witch.  Caverns is the 9th Fighting Fantasy book, and it hadn't been published as of Warlock #2.  I'm interested to see how different the preview is.  As for The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, I've already played through the first half, and I'll be taking on the second half in my next post.