Tuesday, April 25, 2017

House of Hell (preview) - Attempt 2

Last time, I racked up too many Fear points, and was scared to death by a Zombie.  Hopefully this time I'll do better, but that's the catch-22 of this gamebook: you have to look for clues, but looking around invariably increases your Fear.

For stats I rolled a Skill of 11, a Stamina of 16, a Luck of 10 and a maximum Fear of 8.  In another gamebook I'd be happy with those rolls, but Skill isn't all that important in House of Hell.  The vital stat here is Fear, and a Fear of 8 isn't going to last all that long.  I'll just have to do my best and try to rack up as many hints and clues as I can.

Okay, starting again: I took a wrong turn down a dirt road, crashed my car during a storm, and walked to a spooky house to ask to use their phone.  At the front door, I have the choice between using the doorknocker or the bell-pull.  Last time I used the knocker, and was invited inside by the butler.  This time I decided to use the bell-pull, and was surprised when a trap-door opened beneath my feet, and I fell down a few metres into a pile of hay.  (This increased my Fear to 1. I also had to Test my Luck to avoid hurting my wrist, which I did successfully, leaving me with a Luck of 9.)

I was in a cellar underneath the house, and there were footsteps approaching. I decided that I wouldn't have time to search for a weapon, so instead I hid behind the door and waited. The man who entered was a hunchback, and as he didn't look all that threatening I stepped forward and announced my presence. He told me to follow him, and as I did he started babbling about the Master expecting a guest, and having dinner laid out already. He also mentioned his specially matured cheese, which raised my suspicions.  (Seriously, never trust italics.  Something's always up when they come into play.)

Eventually we reached a door, and he gave me directions to go up into the house; he wasn't allowed upstairs himself. I entered the next chamber on my own, and soon received a shock, as I was swarmed by bats. I batted them away and raced up some nearby steps, shaken by the experience. (My Fear was increased to 2.)

The stairs ended at a hallway lined with animal heads, and I decided to explore further. The heads were all of dangerous beasts: a bear, a wolf, a tiger and a "serval" (a type of African wild cat). I could hear a growling noise, which gave me a fright (increasing my Fear to 3).

I guess the illustrator doesn't know what a serval is either.

I could also hear footsteps approaching. I decided to stand my ground and wait to see who it was. It was a butler named Franklins, and after I explained the situation he seemed to understand, and led me into the reception hall. Then he went to fetch his master, and it wasn't long before they both returned.

(At this point, the narrative had routed me back to where I would have gone had I used the door-knocker, although it didn't give me the chance to check the paintings in the reception hall.)

I was introduced to the Earl of Drumer, and we sat and shared brandy together. (A relaxing experience that reduced my Fear to 2.) Then we had a meal where I drank white wine, had a main course of duck, and finished up with fruit, coffee and brandy. (I didn't eat any cheese, due to the hunchback's italics from earlier.)

After the meal Franklins showed me to my room (labelled with a plaque as the Fortesque Room). I noticed that the windows were barred, but rationalised it as a way of keeping out intruders. I was tired after everything that had happened, so I climbed into bed and went to sleep.

In my dreams I was chased by a swirling cloud of gas, which caught up to me and caused me to cough and choke. I woke up, and found that my pillow and bedclothes were holding me down and smothering me to death. (An experience which increased my Fear to 4.) I was able to escape (by rolling under my Skill on two dice) and decided that it was time to get out of the house.

On the landing I turned right, and was confronted by the apparition of a young bride (increasing my Fear to 5). She beckoned me into a bedroom, where she told me about the evil Lord Kelnor, and that he could only be destroyed by the Kris Knife. Before she could finish her story she was attacked by ghostly Great Danes, and I ran away.

I decided to ignore her story, and escape from the house rather than help her. But rather than dash right down the stairs I decided to proceed cautiously. At the bottom of the stairs there were three doors. I tried the door on the right, but it was locked. The door on the left led into a study with many books. In the study I saw a message appear on a piece of paper: "beware the astorbed". (Seeing the message increased my Fear to 6.)

I read a book on black magic, inside of which I found a pentacle that supposedly had powers over devil-worshippers. (A find which restored my Luck to 10.) I decided to continue looking through the books, but instead I found a button at the back of the bookcase. Pressing the button revealed a secret passage, which I was too curious to ignore.

The narrow passage led to some stairs, and at the bottom was a choice of two doors. The door on the right was a food store, filled with bread, dried meat, cheese, fruit, fish, wine and cakes.  I wasn't hungry, so I left the food and opened the door opposite. The room beyond was a cell of some sort, and sleeping in there was a man in a white gown.

This guy's man-boobs might be the most disturbing thing in this adventure.

The man woke up as I entered, and asked if I had come for him. Startled, but wanting to know more, I answered that I had. At first he seemed cheerful enough to go with me, but then he drew a knife from his gown, and declared that he wasn't going without a fight. The battle was a desperate one, as I was unarmed, but he was no skilled fighter. He managed to wound me three times (reducing my Stamina to 10) before I could subdue him. Rather than finish him off, though, I spared his life, and he told me his story.

He explained that he used to be a part of the Master's "coven", but his conscience could not allow him to condone such evil. Rather than allowing him to leave the coven, though, his fellows had instead locked him up, and planned to sacrifice him. He explained that Kelnor could only be killed by the Kris Knife, and that he must be summoned in a red room.

Before he could finish the door burst open, and two men entered wearing masks made out of the heads of dead goats. They attacked us with knives, and we fought one each. The devil-worshipper was a better fighter than my ally, but I managed to sustain only one wound before defeating him (reducing my Stamina to 8). I was too late to save my new friend, though, as the other devil-worshipper killed him. I knocked him out, and fled. (I tried to use the pentacle in this section, but it's not meant for this encounter. I also wonder why I wasn't given the option to take a knife from any of these guys.)

I went back through the study and up the stairs, where I continued around the landing. At a junction I turned left, and entered a door marked as the 'Lucretia Room'. Inside was a bedroom, lit by a single candle and filled with many plants. Asleep in the bed was an old woman. I decided to wake her up, but when I touched her I found that she was cold. The woman was dead! (An experience which increased my Fear to 8, equalling my maximum.)

Maybe this is the 'astor bed' I'm supposed to fear?

And so I died, frightened by touching an old lady's dead body. Anticlimatic, no? I find it odd the things that increase your Fear score, and by how much.  Touching a dead body is worth 2 points?  But seeing a ghost is only worth 1?  Why does being attacked by cultists wearing dead goat heads not increase your Fear at all?  It doesn't make a lot of sense, nor does dying because I touched a dead body. I guess I have to assume that the hero of this book has an incredibly weak heart.

I'm still enjoying it, though.  I'm not sure which bits are different from the book version.  I don't remember the bell-pull trapdoor at all.  I'm pretty sure that the name-plates on the doors are different in the book.  Other than that, I'm flying blind here.

I don't know if I've made much progress, or found any vital clues. Learning about the Kris Knife is step one, but I remember it being very difficult to find.  I was pleased to get through the meal without being drugged, as I remember that being essential to winning in the book.  Here, it doesn't seem at all necessary.  I'm pretty sure that the old lady has an important clue, so I'll have to come back to this room on my next attempt.  Even then, I doubt I'll win next time. Rather than the linear progression of other FF gamebooks, House of Hell is like a puzzle-box, with each attempt revealing just a little more of what's inside.  I know I'll crack it eventually, but it's devious, so I could be on this one for a little while.

Friday, April 21, 2017

House of Hell (preview) - Attempt 1

My fear of goats is all down to this gamebook.

Before House of Hell was published as book 10 of the Fighting Fantasy series, a shortened version of it was included in Warlock magazine #3. Written by Steve Jackson and illustrated by Tim Sell, the book is one of my favourites in the series, so I'm interested to see how the magazine version differs. The preview of Caverns of the Snow Witch from Warlock #2 was much the same as the book, although it did have different illustrations. The House of Hell preview has the same illustrations as the book, but I've been assured that the adventure itself has been changed in some important ways.

House of Hell is set in the present day (well, in the 1980s probably), and begins with the hero driving down an unfamiliar road during a storm, having been given bad directions by a white haired old man. After swerving to avoid a person standing in the road (who may have been the same old man) he totals his car and is forced to seek help from the spoooooky house in the distance.  It's a cliched horror set-up, but the rest of the adventure makes up for it. I'm not lying when I say that House of Hell provided me with some of the most vivid nightmare fuel of my childhood.

As far as rules go, House of Hell introduces a new mechanic that will be central to the adventure: Fear. Before beginning the adventure, you roll 2d6, and record that number as your maximum Fear score. Your Fear begins at zero, but during the adventure various things will drive that score up, and if it ever equals your maximum fear you will die of fright. It's a pretty effective tool for maintaining tension as you explore the mansion.

I rolled a Skill of 7, a Stamina of 20, a Luck of 12 and a maximum Fear of 9.  Because I begin the adventure with no weapons, my starting Skill is actually 3, which is probably an accurate depiction of me in the real world. In fact I don't have any equipment at all, and don't begin with a potion or any provisions. It should be okay, though, I'm just going to knock on the door and ask to use the phone. Everything will be fine.

Meeting the Addams Family would be a best-case scenario here.

When I reached the front door of the house, the place looked abandoned; everyone was probably asleep as it was nearly midnight. The front door had a brass knocker, as well as a bell-pull hanging beside it. Reasoning that the knocker would have less chance of waking everyone in the house, I decided to try that first.

The door was eventually answered by a butler, who invited me inside. He hurried off to fetch his master, who I was informed was "expecting me". This should have raised some alarm bells, but perhaps I was just happy to be out of the rain.

Despite its ramshackle appearance from the outside, the interior was quite opulent. I decided to study some of the paintings on the wall, choosing that of a beautiful young woman (because I ain't about to look at a portly gentleman or an elderly woman instead). A plaque below the painting read 'Lady Margaret of Danvers, 1802-34'. As I stood admiring the painting, I heard a whispering and thought I saw the lady's lips moving. I moved my head closer, and she warned me to beware the house, that Lord Kelnor was already plotting my death, and that I should avoid drinking his red wine. It was a chilling experience (that increased my Fear to 1), and I decided to leave the house immediately.

I made for the front door, but when I tried to open it an electric shock ran up my arm (reducing my Stamina to 18). I would need to find another means of escape.

The butler then returned, with a man who introduced himself as the Earl of Drumer. The earl led my to his drawing-room, where I dried off in front of the fire and he offered me some sherry. Somewhat wary, and mindful of the warning of the lady in the painting, I didn't drink the sherry and instead waited for the earl to question me. The earl was annoyed, but his efforts to reassure me did little to calm my nerves (which increased my Fear to 2).

Widow's peak, he's definitely evil.

The butler summoned us to the dining-room, where a meal was served. There was a choice of white and red wine, and I chose to drink the white. Then we had soup, and a main course of either duck or lamb; I chose the lamb. As we ate, the earl told me about himself: he is the last of his once-prosperous family, but after the death of his sister at age 32 - found naked in the woods with strange marks on her neck - there were accusations of black magic. The farmers who once worked their land gradually left, although the Earl of Drumer dismissed it as superstitious nonsense. I wasn't convinced. After all, the lady in the painting had also been 32 when she died...

The butler returned with a selection of fruit, cheese, coffee and brandy. I chose to take cheese, coffee and brandy. (It's irritating to me that there are three choices given here, but none to avoid the coffee. I know I'm going against popular opinion here, but coffee is a vile brew.  In my head, my character just had cheese and brandy.)

Our meal ended, and the earl offered to have his butler show me to my room. I tried to stand up, but my head was spinning, and I collapsed into unconsciousness. It was that bloody coffee, I knew it.

When I woke up I was in a plain room with my hands and feet tied with rope. It was still dark outside, and the rain was pelting heavily on the window. I devised a plan: I would break the glass and use it to cut myself free. (At this point I was asked whether I want to Test my Luck, which is an unusual option in Fighting Fantasy; I'm pretty sure that Steve is the only writer who uses it. I chose to use my Luck, and rolled successfully, reducing my score to 11.)

I broke the glass, and managed to cut myself free without being cut. The door to the room was not locked, and it opened into a hallway. To my left the passage ended at a door, and to my right it continued on, but as I could hear squeaking coming from that direction I turned left. Suddenly I was confronted by the apparition of a young woman in a torn bridal dress. She beckoned me into the room, and I followed her despite being shaken by the experience. (My Fear increased to 3.)

I have no joke here, this is just a cool illustration.

The room was an elegant bedchamber. The ghost-woman explained to me that the house was ruled by Kelnor, a Black Priest of the Night, and that he planned to sacrifice me to the Demons of Hellfire. A young nurse had already been trapped, and was being sacrificed tonight. She also said that Kelnor could be defeated if I found the Kris Knife, but before she could tell me where to find it she was distracted by the baying of hounds. Two spectral Great Danes attacked her, and soon she had disappeared completely. I fled from the room, but I was now determined to destroy Kelnor as she had asked.

Along the corridor, there were two doors on the left marked with names: the Albemarle Room and the Rousseau Room. I tried the Albemarle Room, which was empty. I rested for a short time (restoring my Stamina to 20), before something caught my attention at the window. Passing through the wall was a human figure, carrying its own severed head in its hand. (My Fear score increased to 5.)

Whoever cut off this dude's head did a good job leaving his collar intact.

I stayed to hear what the headless ghost had to say: it told me that I was going to die, and be trapped as a ghost in the house forever. The ghost then faded back through the wall, but I was on the verge of panic. (My Fear increased to 7.)

Back in the corridor, I entered the Rousseau Room, and found it filled with boxes and furniture covered with white sheets. I searched under the sheets and in the boxes, but all I found was a chaise lounge, some easy chairs and some crockery and cutlery. As I was searching, one of the sheets rose into the air, giving me a fright. Instinctively I grabbed at the sheet, and discovered that it was merely being pulled upwards with string. I was relieved, but I decided not to wait and find out who had pulled the string. (My Fear had increased by 1 here, then decreased back to 7.)

I followed the passage and came to some stairs leading down, which I took. In the hallway below were doors to my left and right, as well as one in front of me that I believed to be front door of the house. Figuring that escape would not so easy, I ignored the front door and chose the door on the left.

I was in a study, lined with old leather-bound books. On a desk there was a piece of paper, and as I looked at it words began to form. Eventually the message was finished; it read: 'Beware the astorbed'. I didn't know what it meant, but I was unnerved. (My Fear increased to 8.)

I was desperate now to find something to fight my captors with, so I looked through the books. There was one on black magic, and another on hypnotism. I opened the book of black magic, and something dropped onto the floor; it was a pentacle on a chain, carved with the number 66. A piece of paper accompanying it told me that it had power over devil-worshippers, (My Luck was restored to 12, and I was informed that I could turn to 66 if I ever found myself in a situation to use the pentacle.)

I left the room and went back upstairs and turned right. Another passage crossed the one I was in, and I turned right again. On the left wall were two doors: the Gordelia Room, and another that was unnamed. I decided to enter the unnamed room.

Inside the room was a hearth, and a box sitting on the mantelpiece. Curtains along the wall bulged unnaturally, but I ignored them and tried to open the box. Something was happening behind the curtains, though, so I put it down to investigate.

As I approached, something struck me in the chest (reducing my Stamina to 18 and increasing my Fear to 10.) I had endured too much, and the last thing I saw before I died of fright was the Zombie that had been lurking behind the curtain.

I think I've bumped into this guy on a few nights out in Melbourne.

I didn't do very well, did I? I failed to make it through the meal without being drugged, and I also failed to find a weapon. I did learn about the Kris Knife, though, and the pentacle was a lucky find. To be honest, I never expected to make it through. Even when I was young and used to play the book regularly, I would still forget how to beat this one. Winning House of Hell for me was always a process of trial and error, taking multiple tries to build up the hints I needed to survive.  I reckon it will take me at least another three or four shots to succeed, if I'm lucky.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Warlock Magazine #3

Before I tackle the adventure in this issue (a preview of Steve Jackson's House of Hell), there's the rest of the magazine to cover.  Here goes!

Fighting Fantasy News: This news round-up reaffirms that Caverns of the Snow Witch and House of Hell were intended as books first, and adapted for the magazine as a secondary concern. It also says that Caverns was published "last month", which reassures me that I've got things in the right order.
  Talisman of Death is mentioned as the next book in the series after House of Hell, which it was. The next book after that was supposed to be The Rings of Kether, but that's not the case; obviously it got delayed somewhere along the line. Freeway Fighter, Temple of Terror and Assassin are all mentioned as upcoming. No, not Space Assassin, just plain old Assassin. I would have been super-excited as a kid by the first title: I get to play an assassin! Cool!  Space Assassin? Not so much. I never did like the sci-fi books all that much.
  In other news, the third Sorcery! book gets a plug, there are computer games coming out based on The Citadel of Chaos and The Forest of Doom, and the Warlock of Firetop Mountain boardgame is in the works. There are also mentions of plans for Out of the Pit (which isn't named yet), as well as the PuzzleQuest books The Tasks of Tantalon and Casket of Souls.  With the amount of material being produced, we're probably looking at the peak of Fighting Fantasy's popularity at this point.

Dungeons & Dragons: This article, written by Mike Brunton, is a very bare-bones explanation of what D&D is, aimed at people who would only be familiar with gamebooks. It also briefly mentions Runequest and Traveller. There's nothing too in-depth here, but it does a decent job of outlining the game and pointing readers in the right direction to get started.

Out of the Pit: This month, the three monsters featured are the winners of the Create-a-Monster competition from Warlock magazine #1.

Doom Demon (by Andrew Mayo): The Doom Demon is a "Prince of the Undead", who rides a flaming chariot pulled by a two-headed Devil Dog. Flames also stream from his hair, and clothes, and it's been speculated that he may have links to the "element of fire" (perhaps a reference to the plane?).
  He is found in the Desert of Skulls, but is only ever seen at night. During the day he resides in his Castle of Black Steel, at the fiery edge of Hell. Many believe that he's tied to the desert somehow.  (There's a passage that says he "rides out and roams the Desert of Skulls, southwards from Oyster Bay to the Whitewater River, where his domain ends". I hate to break it to the author, but the Whitewater River is north and east of Oyster Bay. What he wrote makes no sense, but I'll let it slide because the rest is metal as fuck.)
  The Doom Demon draws his power from a chain of skulls around his neck; the skulls are the remains of "the twelve mages of Ciarensia", whose souls the Demon trapped within. He also wields a whip made from the hair of a Hag who once tried to curse him, and wears a flaming black cape that sustains his incorporeal form.
  The Demon has hollow eyes that can hypnotise its foes, which can only be stopped by reflecting its gaze with a mirror. The Demon can then be destroyed by tearing away its cape, and casting holy water into its eyes to bring it back to life, after which it can be killed in regular combat.
  The only three people known to have seen the Doom Demon and lived are a trio of Dwarven fishermen who spied it from the northern bank of the Whitewater River.
  (Wow, there's a lot to unpack here. Yes, there are a lot of cool ideas, but there are almost too many; you could probably get three viable, interesting monsters out of what's here, rather than one that's loaded with clutter.  As for lore, the biggest thing here is "the twelve mages of Ciarensia". There's no mention of what Ciarensia is, but it's been theorised on the Rebuilding Titan Yahoo group that it was an ancient province where the Desert of Skulls now lies. It's as good an idea as any, and there's nothing to dispute it as far as I'm aware.)

Shadow Monster by Simon Wood: The Shadow Monster is created by dark magic (with Zanbar Bone called out as a practitioner). The sorcerer inscribes a sun-lit wall with invisible runes, and whenever a passerby casts a shadow on that wall, said shadow will take material form and try to kill the one who cast it. See Andrew Mayo, you only need one good idea to make a good monster!

Cave Vampire by Bruce Newson: This monster is basically a huge vampire bat, found only in the deepest, darkest caverns. It likes to feed on blood (naturally), but it's sensitive to light and can't bear to see its own reflection.

The Warlock's Quill: This is the letters page. Two people ask whether there will be an FF fan club. Another gets some rules clarifications, and is told that you can't raise your stats above your initial level unless specifically instructed. Another reader complains about being lost in the Maze of Zagor, and is told by the editor that "I hope you stay there till you rot". That's pretty much how I always imagined Ian and Steve felt about their readers.

Market Mayhem by Ian Livingstone: This is a board game created by your friend and mine, Ian Livingstone. Set in the market-place of Port Blacksand, it uses the standard FF rules and involves players each controlling a character and pursuing their various agendas until things devolve into a brawl.
  It's not entirely clear how the game is played. Players move about the board, interacting with each other and having conversations and possibly fighting each other. I suppose that the players are expected to play their character's personality as outlined on their card, which should result in conflict, but it's all a bit vague to make for a good board game.
  The NPCs are all various types of traders, guards and performers, with one escaped slave and a beggar. The most notable thing here is that one trader deals in "beautiful young girls", which is an area that Fighting Fantasy doesn't normally get into. Extreme violence, yes. Sex slavery, not so much.
  There are 14 player characters: Bruno, an alchemist who hates dwarves; Denzil, an assassin disguised as a minstrel; Deraco, a drunk pirate; Keesh, a dwarf looking for a present for his wife; Meriella, an elf searching for her lost sister; Misk, a treasure-hunter looking for the assassin who stole from him; Ragnar, a half-elf who loves to kick dogs; Vartan, a short-tempered warrior; Yam-Yi, a priest looking for a statuette stolen from his shrine; Dorig, a half-orc who enjoys the suffering of humans; Karlos, who is looking for a girl who was take from his master's harem; Kazanelle, who has a load of stolen statuettes; Pollius, a priest looking for donations for his dilapidated temple; and Zeno, an elf here to pick holly who hates the abuse of animals.
  There are a number of things to take from this. First, Dorig is a Half-Orc, which is not the usual term used in FF; he should be a Man-Orc (although I won't be surprised if both are used in future FF books).  Second, Ragnar is a Half-Elf, which I believe is the first time we've seen one of those in an FF product. (EDIT: No wait, there were some in the Introduction of Citadel of Chaos, spying for the Grand Wizard of Yore.) Third, we have Karlos, who has been paid by an "eastern noble" to retrieve a girl who was stolen from his harem. This is all very Arabian-flavoured, and it's the first hint we get that such cultures exist on Titan. (The only such culture on Allansia that I can think of is Kallamehr from Slaves of the Abyss, which is not east but rather far to the south-east. It might be the best option, though.)

The only other thing in the magazine is a crossword puzzle, which is has a lot of clues based on Fighting Fantasy things, some that would be common knowledge for British people but might stump foreigners, and some other general knowledge stuff. It wasn't that hard.

Next: House of Hell! Not the book, though, the magazine preview. I'm really interested (and a little nervous) to see how this differs from the version I'm familiar with.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Exploring Titan 9: Caverns of the Snow Witch

This post has taken me quite some time to get started, and that's because it's difficult to know quite where to begin. Here's the problem: Caverns of the Snow Witch covers a lot of ground. It's expansive in a way that no other book in the series has been to this point. (Okay smart-ass, Starship Traveller is more expansive, I guess. But I didn't have to write an Exploring Titan about that one, did I?)

I suppose the best starting point is to point out something I've already mentioned in earlier posts: this is the first book which mentions Allansia, and treats the place as a unified setting. Ian wrote his last three books as a loose trilogy, and then in Warlock magazine #1 published the first ever map of the Fighting Fantasy world, as seen below.

(I'm going to credit the creation of Allansia primarily to Ian rather than Steve. Most of Steve's fantasy books take place in Kakhabad, or in the Trolltooth Pass area south-east of the map above, whereas pretty much all of Ian's are set in Allansia.)

Caverns of the Snow Witch takes place over an area that spans much of the north-eastern portion of Allansia, so I'm going to split this post into various topics and discuss each in turn.

The Icefinger Mountains
The Icefinger Mountains stretch across northern Allansia, a range of snow-capped peaks. Winters in northern Allansia are said to be "cruel and bitter", with thick snow, icy winds, and frozen lakes. (This seems to only be true in the areas north of the River Kok, as there's no mention of ice and snow once the hero travels south.) The foothills of the Icefinger Mountains are dotted with outposts, where merchants from the south travel to trade cloth, utensils, weapons, salted meats, spices and tea for furs and ivory carvings made from mammoth tusks. Little else is said of the people who live in these outposts. In Deathtrap Dungeon there was a mention of "druids of the north", and an implication that the barbarians in that book hailed from the north as well. There's not much else north of Fang besides the Icefingers, but whether those druids and barbarians are connected to the outposts remains a mystery.  The only native we meet in this part of the book is the ill-fated trapper, and he doesn't seem like fit either description.

The Crystal Caves
A network of caverns that lies beneath the Icefinger Mountains, they were carved out of a glacier by the followers of the Snow Witch. The trapper mentioned above describes them as "legendary", and says that he's been searching for them for the last five years. Legends have circulated about the Snow Witch's treasure being frozen in the cavern walls. This all raises the question of just how old these caverns are. "Legendary" would suggest that they're very old indeed. They can't be older than the Snow Witch herself, but as a vampire she's effectively immortal.

The caves are inhabited mostly by the Snow Witch's servants, a collections of slaves that is composed of various humanoids including orcs, goblins, neanderthals, elves and dwarves. Possibly the most intriguing inhabitant of the caves is the Ice Demon that the Snow Witch's followers worship, but more on him later.  A good portion of the Snow Witch's followers are there unwillingly, and have been taken from areas as far south as the Moonstone Hills. (Whether Redswift and Stubb were captured while close to home or on a journey to the Icefingers is never clarified.)

The Snow Witch
One might expect a lengthy entry here, given that she's the major villain of the book, but the Snow Witch is very much a blank slate as of this book. She'll get an interesting origin later on in Titan, but none of that stuff is relevant to what I'm doing just yet, so I'll focus on what we learn about her in this book.

The trapper (him again!) describes her as "a beautiful yet evil sorceress who is trying to use her dark powers to bring on an ice age so that she can rule supreme over the whole world". We know that she has her lair in the Crystal Caves under the Icefinger Mountains, and that the vast majority of her servants are slaves that are kept under her control with magical collars. Oh yeah, she's also a vampire. Nobody knows why. And after she dies, her spirit enters a crystal orb. She seems to have an affinity for playing games, and is a stickler for adhering to the rules - she even allows herself to die when she loses a game to the hero of the book.

Aaaaand that's it. Like I said, she's kind of a blank slate at this point.

The Journey South
The hero (along with Redswift and Stubb) journeys south from the Icefinger Mountains, reaching the River Kok after two days of walking. They cross the river some fifty miles downstream from Fang, then walk across the Pagan Plain passing west of Firetop Mountain, heading for Stonebridge. The trio sleep exactly once on the way to Stonebridge, which means that the journey takes less than two days. (If these travel times are accurate, then Allansia is seriously small; the map above could be traversed in no more than a week on foot.)

The mentions of Fang and Firetop Mountain leave things suitably vague as to whether the events of Deathtrap Dungeon and The Warlock of Firetop Mountain have happened yet, but there's no such ambiguity when it comes to The Forest of Doom. As soon as the hero reaches Stonebridge we're treated to a lead-in to that book, as Stubb leaves to take part in the doomed expedition to find Gillibran's Hammer, while the Hill Trolls are massing for war. Chronologically speaking, this book may be the earliest of the series thus far; if it were easier, it would make the perfect lead-in to the rest of the series.

(At this point I'd like to point out something of an inconsistency in the way that Darkwood Forest is described in The Forest of Doom. It's supposed to be really dangerous, but there are far deadlier monsters in the Pagan Plain as depicted in Caverns. Some of that is that the Trolls are massing for war, but it still isn't very consistent.)

The Moonstone Hills
I believe that this is the first time that the hills are named in a gamebook, although it's possible that I'm wrong and they were named as such in The Forest of Doom. We learn here that the Moonstone Hills are home to a tribe of Wood Elves; there's also an encounter here with some Wild Hill Men, which is a lovely call-back to The Forest of Doom. The hills as presented here are densely populated with various hostile humanoids, but their most interesting inhabitant is the Healer.

The Healer
The mysterious Healer lives in the Moonstone Hills, and will heal you of the death curse laid on you by the Snow Witch. If you meet Redswift's brother Ash, he will relate the Healer's origin story: he was disfigured and cursed with disease by "the Dark Ones", for ridding the wizard Nicodemus of a Death Curse that they had cast upon him. (Nicodemus, of course, is the reclusive wizard from City of Thieves. As for the Dark Ones, they're described here only as "evil spirits of the night", but they'll get a bit more backstory in Titan.) After being disfigured, the Healer withdrew from society, and will only see those who are sick. His magic is more ritualistic and shamanic than that of other Allansian wizards, and seems to be tied to the many masks he has hanging on his wall; one such mask helps to cure you of the Death Spell. This cure also requires a number of trials, and I've never been quite sure of the purpose of them; how does crossing a chasm in the dark and walking past a shrieking Banshee help matters? Whatever the answer is, the Healer doesn't provide it - he's quite secretive, albeit in a benevolent manner.

There aren't a lot of new monsters in Caverns of the Snow Witch - in introducing Allansia as a unified setting, it uses a lot of pre-existing monsters in ways that make sense. From earlier books we get Elves, Dwarves, Goblins, Orcs, Zombies, Neanderthals, Cavemen, an Air Elemental, Centaurs, a Werewolf, Hill Trolls, Wild Hill Men, a Man-Orc, a Genie, and some Hobgoblins.  Gnomes have appeared in the series before, but usually as inherently magical creatures - the one here is simply a cook. Bird-Men have appeared in the Sorcery! epic, but this is the first evidence we have that they exist in Allansia as well. There are also some monsters that are simply variants of pre-existing monsters, adapted to a snowy clime: the Snow Wolves, the Frost Giant, and the White Dragon.

The Mammoth and the Yeti are both appearing here for the first time, but there's not much to say about either. One is an unusually large and hostile elephant, and the other a shaggy beast that is vicious enough to slaughter an entire outpost for human flesh. They match up very closely to portrayals in general pop culture.

The Ice Demon is interesting in that it's being worshipped by the Snow Witch's followers; obviously she's in league with it somehow, although their exact relationship isn't spelled out just yet. It's also not clear whether the demon seen here is in its true form, or is simply a spirit animating an ice statue. It's also not displayed with much intelligence, but it does have an icy breath that can freeze its foes.

The Crystal Warrior is a statue carved out of quartz, and animated by the Snow Witch's magic. Presumably, they're difficult to make, because she only has one of them. It's completely impervious to bladed weapons, but can be harmed with a war-hammer. It also relies on sight to detect it's enemies, as it's able to be avoided by turning invisible. (It's quite possible, as presented here, that this Crystal Warrior is unique, and that only the Snow Witch knows how to create them.)

The Sentinel seen here is a guardian of the Snow Witch's treasure - it's encountered when you pick up a golden idol from said treasure, and it bursts out of your hand to become a golden warrior. Again, it's possible that this is another construct that only the Snow Witch knows how to make.

The Brain Slayer is a D&D Mind Flayer with the serial number filed off - a robed humanoid with an octopus-like head and the mental power to entrance its victims. Unlike the Mind Flayer, which feeds directly on brain matter, the Brain Slayer merely wraps a tentacle around its victims head and feeds on its "brainpower". To be honest, it robs the creature of a lot of its horrific aura.

Flesh Grubs are also D&D analogue monsters, this time standing in for Rot Grubs. They're basically big maggots that will burrow into exposed flesh with their hook-like fangs. Brrrrr.

A Dark Elf appears for the first time here. We've seen Black Elves a few times before this, but not Dark Elves. They're described here as the natural enemies of wood elves, and they wear "familiar black cloaks". We get little else, and there's no explanation of the difference between Dark and Black Elves. No mention is made of them having dark skin, either.

The Night Stalker lives in a cave in the Moonstone Hills. It's a hunched, sinewy, creature with an ashen face, folds of grey skin, and sunken eyes (and a hell of a set of fangs if the illustration is to be believed). It skulks through its dark cave, lighting its way with a dim lamp, and attacks intruders on sight.

The Pegasus, appearing surprisingly for the first time (I think), is the classical winged horse of mythology. The Healer summons one, and claims that it will fly you anywhere for a gift of silver.

I believe the Banshee that appears here is the first in the series. It's described as a "hideous spectre whose face and hands are shrivelled and who only has one large nostril and a single tooth". It's also explicitly female. Curiously, the Banshee is harmless if you're able to pass by it without displaying fear or otherwise acknowledging it by speaking or touching it. It will let out a "doom-laden" howl, but let you pass if you're able to resist lashing out at it. Not only does it scream, but it can speak as well, and does so by telling you that you're going to die. Such is the fear that it induces that many foes will be frozen while battling it (rolling under your SKILL score with two dice is required, or you automatically lose the Attack Round).

So that's Caverns of the Snow Witch done and dusted. I doesn't introduce a lot of original elements,  but it does a lot to draw pre-existing elements together and establish the flavour of Allansia going forward.

Next: Next up is Warlock magazine #3, which contains a preview of House of Hell that apparently changes many things from the book. I'll probably cover the non-gamebook stuff first, then the House of Hell preview. I'm looking forward to it.