Thursday, May 19, 2016

Caverns of the Snow Witch (preview) - Attempt 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some surprisingly well-fed Snow Wolves

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Caverns of the Snow Witch (preview) - Attempt 1

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

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

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

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

Big Jim Sun

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

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

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

I think Snuffleupagus got lost

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

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

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

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

THE YETAY!  (One for the wrestling fans.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pretty handsome for a Goblin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A contender for the most pointless gamebook illustration ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 6, 2016

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


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

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

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

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

In the magazine, they are switched around as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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