Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Caverns of the Snow Wotch: Final Thoughts


As I settle in to write my thoughts about Caverns of the Snow Witch, I'm wondering how much my personal experience of the book colours my assessment of its strengths and weaknesses. I mean, of course it does; reviews of any sort would be pointless otherwise. But what I'm getting at is this: I finished this gamebook in one go, through a series of very lucky dice rolls. Now I know that in reality Caverns is a brutal, linear slog, and that the likelihood of me completing it on my first attempt was pretty slim. Nevertheless, I did, and unlike some other books (I'm looking at you Island of the Lizard King) I only had to experience it once rather than 10+ times. Thus it was quite enjoyable. So, while I'm concerned that I might be a little too generous, I do have prior experience with Caverns, and I'll try to look at it objectively, as much as that's possible.

The first thing that's immediately apparent is just how structurally different Caverns is to every Fighting Fantasy that precedes it. Rather than having one main quest that is laid out at the outset, this book presents a number of quests that progress from one to the next. You begin by hunting down a Yeti that has slaughtered an outpost, and from there you take on a mission to destroy the Snow Witch. After accomplishing that most gamebooks would be over, but once you escape the caves the story becomes a travelogue as you accompany your newfound companions back to their homes. Finally, the Witch's death curse is revealed and you have to find the mysterious Healer to get rid of it. It's a bit scattered, and the book feels aimless during the travelogue sequence, but it just about hangs together, and it's a small step towards gamebooks becoming more sophisticated in their storytelling.

Back in June last year I wrote about my final thoughts about the preview version of Caverns, which appeared in Warlock magazine and ended around the point where you first battle the Snow Witch. I had some harsh things to say about it at the time, and a lot of it still stands, but I feel like it holds up a lot better as part of a longer adventure. There are still some weird mechanical things going on, and the screwiness involving the Crystal Warrior is unforgivable, but there's a lot to like about it, especially in Ian's ability to evoke an environment. He goes all in on the frozen Icefinger Mountains, and it feels genuinely inhospitable. This is aided greatly by the stark illustrations of Gary Ward and Edward Crosby, which have an odd "woodcut" quality to them. I don't feel that they're quite as appropriate for the second half of the adventure, but for the first half they're perfect, and a huge improvement from those in the magazine version.

In the gamebook version the hero must escape the caves with the aid of two newfound companions, Redswift and Stubb, and also face down the Snow Witch a final time. Ian had toyed with companions in earlier books - Throm in Deathtrap Dungeon, and Mungo in Island of the Lizard King - but only for a brief amount of time. In Caverns, Redswift and Stubb are with you for most of the adventure, and although they're similarly doomed (Stubb's fate is ambiguous, but he probably dies not long after you part ways) it's nice to have them hanging around for a while. It's too bad they don't have much personality, beyond the odd wry or sarcastic comment, but they've got more going for them than the Snow Witch herself. The early Fighting Fantasy books were never big on investing their villains with character: "Impudent peasant!" is the closest thing that Balthus Dire ever gets to a personality, for instance. But the Snow Witch (is she ever called Shareella in this book?) takes the cake as a non-entity. She gets a great origin story in later material, but there's no sign of it here, where she is a generic evil Vampire sorceress and nothing more.

Once the book leaves the Crystal Caves, and the hero ventures south with his companions, it takes the tone of a travelogue as I mentioned above. At this point the adventure becomes excessively linear, and involves a long slog of difficult, unavoidable combats. Nevertheless, the writing here is great, and this is the first time that Allansia genuinely comes to life as a setting. Indeed, if you're just reading the main series this book is the first time that Allansia is even named. For fans who had been with the series from the beginning this must have been great.  Ian had crafted a loosely connected trilogy with his last three books, but this is where he really draws it all together: there are references to The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Fang and Deathtrap Dungeon, Nicodemus from City of Thieves, and even a prologue of sorts leading into The Forest of Doom. It's a shame Ian couldn't work in references to Island of the Lizard King or Citadel of Chaos, but other than those two this book connects everything that has gone before. (Well, not Starship Traveller, but that's understandable. Or Scorpion Swamp I guess, which may not have been finished when Ian was putting this one together.)

It all culminates with the search for the Healer, which takes the standard Fighting Fantasy set-up and turns it on its head. A lot of gamebooks go like this: you see an interesting thing; do you want to investigate the interesting thing or ignore it? Inevitably the reader will investigate, be rewarded or punished for it, and move on to the next interesting thing. It's how these books work. The final stage of Caverns changes that up a bit, by having the Death Curse constantly draining the hero of Stamina. So while you may want to investigate the interesting thing, and you need to in order to find the Healer, there's an element of tension added.

While the book does do some interesting things with the story and the structure, and is an important building block in the creation of Allansia and Titan as a whole, as an actual game it leaves a lot to be desired. As I've mentioned before, I rolled a character with a Skill of 12 and a Luck of 12, and I still just barely squeaked through. The sheer number of unavoidable combats with high-Skill foes makes the book impossible for weaker characters, and even with a strong character too much comes down to pure luck of the dice. It's a fun book to read, but it's less fun to play.


COOL STUFF I MISSED

Due to the linearity of this adventure, I covered almost everything. I missed one of the three discs along the way, and there was an encounter with some Centaurs and a Night Stalker that I didn't find. The most significant thing I missed, though, was an encounter with an elf who turns out to be Redswift's brother, Ash. Not only does Ash get to mourn his dead bro, but he also gives you an origin for the Healer, and ties him in to Nicodemus from City of Thieves. I've never found this encounter before in multiple play-throughs of the book, and it adds so much to the story.

MISTAKES AND RED HERRINGS

There are no errors that I could find, unless you count Ian's decision to force you to fight the Crystal Warrior with the war-hammer. As for useless items, there are several: some salted fish, a candle, a pair of leather sandals, a stuffed rat, a box of teeth, a jar of pickled lizard tails, some stale bread, and some charcoal sticks. All of it's the sort of stuff you find in the pockets of goblins and orcs, and pretty obviously not important (although with Ian you never know).

BEST DEATH

I count 23 instant death paragraphs in this book, and this one was my favourite:


Eaten alive by grubs at the bottom of a pit surrounded by the bones of the dead. It's a grim one.

S.T.A.M.I.N.A. RATING

Story & Setting: The icy setting for the first half of the book is novel and well-realised, and the second half does a lot to establish Allansia as a place. It's a lot of fan-service, but it's well-written fan-service. Throw in the interesting structure of the book, and there's a lot to like here. Rating: 5 out of 7.


Toughness: Despite my relatively pleasant experience this time around, this book is hard. It's long, linear, and loaded with tough battles that can't be bypassed. The only thing that saves it from the minimum rating is that there aren't any hard-to-find items that are critical to success. Rating: 2 out of 7.


Aesthetics: The illustrations are great, and the writing is evocative. It's a great-looking book, even if the style doesn't fit the second half quite as well as the first. Rating: 5 out of 7.

Mechanics: The Fighting Fantasy system is usually solid, but Ian manages to do some screwy things with it here. In particular there are a few scenes where you need a Skill of 10+, whereas in most other books you would simply roll against your score. Losing because of a bad roll is something I find acceptable. Losing because my scores aren't high enough? That I have problems with. Rating: 3 out of 7.

Innovation & Influence: The innovations here are in story and setting, rather than mechanics: the icy wastes (although it's not clear whether it was published before or after Joe Dever's Caverns of Kalte), and the progression of the plot through multiple quests. Mechanically it's the same as most other FF books. Rating: 3 out of 7.

NPCs & Monsters: The monsters of the Icefinger Mountains feel fresh, but while there are several new additions to the FF monster pantheon none of them really stick in the mind. And while Redswift and Stubb are around for most of the adventure, they're a little bland. The same can be said for the Snow Witch, who is a generic villain. The Healer is probably the most interesting figure in the book, but remains mysterious. There are a lot of characters, but most of them aren't that interesting. Rating: 4 out of 7.

Amusement: I had fun on the one play-through I did, but I know from experience that the linearity of the book makes it dull and over-long on re-reads. Most of the fun comes from spotting the references to older books. Rating: 4 out of 7.

The nebulous bonus point will not be awarded. The above scores total 26, which doubled gives a S.T.A.M.I.N.A. Rating of 52. That puts it just slightly above Island of the Lizard King, which was similarly linear and hard, but without the narrative flourishes of Caverns. That seems fair.

NEXT: An Exploring Titan post on Caverns (which might be a long'un), and then it's on to Warlock magazine #3.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Caverns of the Snow Witch - Attempt 1


Deep within the Crystal Caves of the Icefinger Mountains, the dreaded Snow Witch is plotting to bring about a new ice age. A brave trapper dies in your arms and lays the burden of his mission on your shoulders. But time is running out - will YOU take up the challenge?

Caverns of the Snow Witch, written by Ian Livingstone and illustrated by Gary Ward and Edward Crosby, is the ninth Fighting Fantasy book.  It will be familiar to readers of the blog, because I've already covered the first half, which was printed in Warlock Magazine #2. There's a temptation to accuse Ian of laziness here, by repurposing and expanding an adventure that he'd already written, but Warlock makes it clear that Caverns of the Snow Witch was always intended to be a book in the main FF series, and it was simply cut down to use as a preview for the magazine.

As I've covered the first section of the adventure already in magazine form, I won't dwell on it at length; the only difference between the two versions is the illustrations, as far as I can tell.  If anyone wants a more thorough treatment of this section of the adventure, they can check out my first post about it here.

In my last post, I had hoped that I would roll high stats so that I could knock off this book quickly. Well, somebody was listening, because check out these figures: Skill 12, Stamina 21, Luck 12.  Those are some superior genetics.  For my potion I chose Strength, because I'm well aware that Stamina loss is quite high in the later stages of the game, and the ten Provisions provided aren't enough to cut it.  I figure that my other stats are high enough that I don't need to worry about restoring them (although Luck is always a concern).

So, background. When the adventure begins, I'm working as a caravan guard for a merchant named Big Jim Sun. We find an outpost full of people who have been killed by a rampaging beast, and Big Jim asks me to hunt it down, a job I accept at the price of 50 gold pieces.  Wasting no time, I head off into the icy wilderness.


  • For some reason I took the ice bridge, instead of walking around the crevasse, and I had to fight a pair of Snow Wolves. Normally I would take the other path to fight the Mammoth, but my memory had failed me. I killed the wolves easily, so it didn't really matter.


  • I sheltered from a blizzard by carving an igloo with my sword. It never stops being ridiculous.
  • I ignored the trapper's hut, where I could have regained some Stamina and picked up a spear and a warhammer. As I discovered while playing the preview, possessing the warhammer will get you killed due to a design flaw later in the book.
  • Further up the mountain I found a Yeti fighting the trapper: this was the beast I was hunting. I killed it, and the dying trapper told me about the Snow Witch and her plan to bring about an ice age. It was up to me to stop her.

  • On the way to the Snow Witch's caverns, I avoided an avalanche with a successful Luck test.
  • I soon made it to the caverns, and found a bowl of liquid that restored some of my Stamina and provided resistance to cold.
  • Further into the caverns I encountered a Mountain Elf, who was wearing a magical collar that made him a slave on the Snow Witch. I convinced him that I was there to kill her, and he gave me his cloak to use as a disguise.
  • I came to a kitchen with a Gnome cook and his Neanderthal servant. I killed the Neanderthal, let the gnome run off, and looted them place, finding a magic flute, a rune-carved stick, a rose with a healing scent, and an Amulet of Courage that gave me a +2 Skill bonus.


  • There was a cave with some cultists worshipping an Ice Demon, but I was able to slip by in my cloak.


  • I rescued a Dwarf slave from a pit, and he gifted me with a sling and three iron balls, as well as the needlessly cryptic clue "Beware the White Rat".  He couldn't have added "It's a Dragon?"
  • I was greeted by a wizard, a servant of the Snow Witch, and wasted no time in attacking him. He tried to fool me with illusory images of himself, but I was able to strike the real wizard, and smash the prism he was drawing his power from. The illusionist fled (never to be seen again), and a genie sprang from the smashed crystal, offering to to grant me the power of invisibility just once.


  • With three tunnels to choose from I picked the middle path (through a skull mouth) and encountered a Frost Giant. One ball from my sling knocked him out, and on his corpse I found three magic rings. I put on the gold ring (which provided resistance to cold), and the copper ring (which gave me the ability to summon a warrior to my aid just once), but I left the silver ring behind.


  • Next I encountered the dreaded Crystal Warrior, the place where most people probably die in this book. I didn't have a war hammer (as I had deliberately avoided getting it), so I wasn't forced to fight it. Instead, I called on the genie, and I was able to flee while invisible.


  • Soon after I found a storeroom with a Zombie guardian.  After quickly dispatching it, I looted the place and found the following stuff: a jar of ground minotaur horn, some garlic, a box of teeth, a jar of pickled lizard tails and four dragon eggs. The book only lets you take three items, so I went with the minotaur horn, the garlic and a dragon egg.


  • Soon after that I encountered the White Rat I had been warned about. It would have transformed into a White Dragon, but instead I sprinkled it with ground minotaur horn, and the transformation was halted. Huzzah!
  • Nearby was a sarcophagus, and in it was the Snow Witch; she was a vampire! I fended her off with my garlic, then rammed by rune-carved stick through her heart. Huh. That was easy.


And that's where the magazine version of the adventure ended. In that version the hero decides to go back and collect his reward from Big Jim Sun, but in the book the hero has more adventures in the caves and beyond. My stats at this point in the book were:

SKILL: 12
STAMINA: 10 (of 21)
LUCK: 10 (of 12)

PROVISIONS: 8

EQUIPMENT: Sword, Leather Armour, Backpack, Potion of Strength, Cloak, Magic Flute, Rune-Carved Stick, Amulet of Courage (+2 Skill), Sling and 3 Iron Balls, Ring of Cold Resistance, Ring of Warrior Summoning, Jar of Ground Minotaur Horn, Garlic, Dragon Egg

And now, onward to unexplored territory!

Now that the Snow Witch was dead I could see a vague shape at the back of the cavern, so I went to investigate. Frozen into the ice wall was an ornate trunk full of gold and jewels. Jackpot!  Using my inexplicably effective sword I hacked the trunk out of the ice, and I couldn't resist grabbing a golden idol. The idol sprung to life in my hand, and transformed into a golden warrior - a Sentinel, the guardian of the Snow Witch's treasure.


This was a hard fight, and my Stamina was already low; the Sentinel wounded me three times, reducing me to a Stamina of 4 before I was able to kill it. Quickly I scoffed three of my Provisions when the battle was over (which left me with 5, and restored my Stamina back to 16).

The trunk contained 600 gold pieces, but for every 50 I took I would have to drop one item.  I left behind my cloak, my rune-carved stick, my jar of ground minotaur horn, my garlic, and my dragon egg, and took with me 250 gold pieces. (Most of these were items I'd used previously, and I was banking on not having to use them again. I know how Ian Livingstone designs gamebooks, so I was pretty confident in getting rid of them. The only item I had misgivings about was the dragon egg, as I hadn't found a use for it yet.)

After gathering my treasure I was met by a Dwarf named Stubb and an Elf named Redswift, both former slaves of the Snow Witch. They offered to help me escape from the caves, and I gladly accepted. Redswift showed me a path behind an illusory wall, and we made our way through.

We came to a junction, and chose to head left. On the floor we found a glass orb that glowed with swirling colours. I picked it up, and it started to swirl rapidly. Redswift and Stubb warned me to get rid of it, so I placed it carefully on the ground and we continued on our way.

The tunnel turned right, then right again, and came to a junction where I turned left (this was the book railroading me, not my own choice). On a wall we found an iron casket with a handle shaped like a serpent.  We decided to draw lots to see who would open it, and Redswift drew the short straw. His keen senses warned him that the casket was trapped, and he disarmed it. Inside was a pair of elven boots which would grant the wearer completely silent footfalls. Again we drew lots to see who would get the boots. Again, Redswift drew the short straw, and gleefully claimed the boots. (This scene involved rolling dice to randomly determine who gets the boots. It's kind of refreshing for NPCs to try to claim treasure in a gamebook, actually, but it only works if the item isn't critical to success.)

Following that we had a seemingly pointless encounter with a Cave-Man at the next crossroads. I sent Redwift and Stubb ahead, and took care of him myself. (He wounded me once though, and reduced my Stamina to 14.)  I found a star-shaped disc in the Cave-Man's belt pouch and promptly looted it; my ploy to get the others out of the way and claim the treasure for myself had worked.

I caught up with Redswift and Stubb, only to find them at the mercy of a strange, octopus-headed creature that had its tentacles wrapped around their heads: a totally not IP-infringing Brain Slayer!


Luckily for me I was wearing an Amulet of Courage, and was able to resist being hypnotised. I drew my sword, and made quick work of the disgusting though possibly tasty creature (with my Stamina now reduced to 12). With the Brain Slayer dead, Redswift and Stubb recovered.

Searching the chamber, we found two pots. I opened the red one, and found a square disc (I'm sensing a Livingstonian pattern here). Against my better judgment, I also opened the grey pot, and found a scroll. As soon as I started reading it the writing began to fade, but I was fast enough (with a successful roll against my Skill) to learn a spell that will protect me against Air Elementals - Gul San Abi Daar.  (It also granted me a Luck bonus, restoring my score to 11.)

Further along the tunnel we found a door with a dagger stuck in it. Unsurprisingly, when I pulled the dagger out it came to life and slashed me (reducing my Stamina to 10).  The three of us managed to jam the dagger back in the door (with a successful Luck test that reduced my score to 10), and we continued on.

Beyond the door was another long tunnel. Stubb complained about being hungry, so we sat down and I was forced to share my Provisions with them (leaving me with a mere 2, and restoring my Stamina to 14. This book bloody loves making you waste Provisions.)

At the next junction we headed right. The tunnel ended at a door with a scrap of parchment on it which I was unable to read. I showed it to Redswift, who quickly tore it up and insisted that we move on quickly. NOTHING OMINOUS HERE, NOPE. WE'RE ALL GOING TO MAKE IT HOME AND LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER. (Actually, no, as future events will reveal I just murdered Redswift. I'd feel bad about it if he wasn't an elf.)

In the next cavern we found a number of stalactites dripping liquid. Without a shield I was forced to walk through it unprotected, and of course it was acid which burned through my clothes and skin (reducing my Stamina to 10, and my Luck to 9.)

Soon we came to another cavern, where a glass globe sat atop a plinth of ice. Within the globe was the spirit of the Snow Witch, and she demonstrated her power by choking one of her Orc servants to death with its slave collar.

Not wishing the same thing to happen to Redswift and Stubb, I fired an iron ball at the globe with my sling. My aim was true (the result of a successful roll against my Skill), but all it did was cause a lightning bolt to fire from the globe towards me.  I was able to dive aside to safety (with a successful Luck test that reduced my score to 8.)

She then started choking my pals, and I challenged her to a combat of any type she desired. This was enough to get her to spare my friends, but she also wanted to stall for time to think of a suitable game, and so she summoned Zombie versions of Stubb and Redswift for me to fight.


(What a weird encounter. How and why does she have Zombies of R-Swift and Stubbsy? It's quite a pointless battle, to be honest.)

I was able to defeat the Zombies, with only the Dwarf wounding me once (reducing my Stamina to 8). With her minions dead, the Snow Witch declared that we would be playing a game called "discs", and that if I didn't have any discs I would lose. Luckily I had two, so I was ready to play. (I'll admit, I got worried here, as I was sure that there were more than two discs to be found. Normally, missing items in an Ian Livingstone joint would be fatal.)

The game was a standard rock-paper-scissors type deal - squares beat circles, circles beat stars, and stars beat squares. With only a square and a star to choose from, I opted for the square. The Snow Witch revealed her own disc - a circle!  I had won! Her globe filled with white smoke, then shattered, and  - I shit you not - Redswift, Stubbs and I stood around giving each other high fives. Such a vulgar display of camaraderie would not go unpunished, though, as the caverns started to do the standard "lode-bearing villain" schtick, caving in now that the Snow Witch was dead.  We managed to avoid the falling ice (with a successful Luck test that left me with a score of 7), and escape to the surface. We were free, and our adventure was over.

Oh wait, no it wasn't. Stubb wanted to go home to Stonebridge, and Redswift likewise wanted to return to the Moonstone Hills. I realised that Big Jim Sun probably thought I was dead, so I decided to accompany them both. Should be a nice, lovely stroll through the wilderness.

Two arduous days later we reached the River Kok, about fifty miles downstream from Fang and Deathtrap Dungeon.  We decided to head in the other direction, and soon found a man asleep by a raft. We asked him to row us across, but he was tired and told us all to bugger off. Normally I would murder this impudent fellow, but the option wasn't given, so we continued downriver.

Further along the river we found a boat, and I decided that we should wait for the owner to arrive. We made camp, and rested while Stubb went looking for food (restoring my Stamina to 10). I woke up to the sound of battle, and saw Redswift fighting a Dark Elf (the Poochiest of fantasy races), who he quickly dispatched. We looted his corpse, and found a vial of green liquid. Redswift couldn't identify it, but I was always ready to gulp down some strange, unknown liquid. Luckily for me, it turned out to be a Potion of Health (which restored my Stamina to 14, my Luck to 8 and would have restored my Skill by 1 if I'd needed it.)

Soon Stubb returned with a rabbit, and mixed up a hearty stew (which restored my Stamina to 18). Then we crossed the river in the Dark Elf's boat, and set off across the Pagan Plains. We passed Firetop Mountain in the distance, and Stubb wondered if the Warlock still ruled there.  Before I could tell him that I had hella-murdered the Warlock, we were interrupted by an old man carrying a sack. He offered me some information for the price of 2 Gold Pieces. I was flush at this point, and happily forked it over. He told us that the nearest water-hole was poisoned, and that a large number of Hill Trolls was gathering north of Stonebridge.  We set off as quickly as possible.


Along the way we were randomly set upon by a pointless flock of Bird-Men. I was able to defend myself in time when one of them swooped at me (with a successful Luck test that reduced my score to 7), and then I had to fight it to the death. It was a strong foe (an unavoidable Skill 12, screw you Ian), and it wounded me three times before I was able to kill it (leaving me with 12 Stamina).


With the flock dispersed, we continued, and grew thirsty under the hot sun. We reached a water-hole, with an Ogre lying face-down in the middle of it. If the old man's warning hadn't been enough to discourage me, this would have done it, and I decided not to drink. I was wearied by thirst (reducing my Stamina to 11), but it was better than being poisoned.

Further along, we found the dead body of a dwarf, who Stubb identified as Morri the ironsmith from Stonebridge. He had been killed by Hill Trolls, but more importantly he had a full water-bottle, and we swigged that sweet, sweet loot-water (restoring my Stamina to 12).


We settled down to camp, and Redswift took first watch. Unfortunately (due to a failed Luck test that left me with a score of 6), we were attacked in the night by a Werewolf. I had to fight it one my own - no idea what my so-called friends were doing - and it wounded me once (reducing my Stamina to 10).  (I was worried that I might have contracted lycanthropy, but this book doesn't bother with it. I was totally free of any deadly curses or disease, yes sir, completely 100% clean.) I ate one of my Provisions anyway, just in case (restoring my Stamina to 14, and leaving me with but 1 meal remaining).

In the morning we set off, with Stubb excited at the prospect of reaching Stonebridge. Before we could reach it, though, we encountered a party of six Hill Trolls, and Stubb couldn't resist charging at them. I was forced to battle two at once, in a hard-fought contest. The first Troll went down quickly, but the second was tough, and almost killed me before I emerged the victor. (This fight was as close as it could be; I ended it with 1 point of Stamina left, and would have died if not for a successful Luck test to reduce the damage dealt. That test left me with a Luck of 5.)  With my life ebbing away, I drank my Potion of Strength, and was restored to full health.


After the battle we marched into Stonebridge, and found that the Dwarves were strangely gloomy. Their fabled war-hammer had been stolen from King Gillibran, and a Dwarf named Bigleg was organising a quest to retrieve it so that it could be used to rally the Dwarves.  Stubb decided to go with Bigleg, and apparently it was a Dwarves-only affair, because Redswift and I weren't invited. We left to head for the Moonstone Hills, while Stubb and company departed for Darkwood Forest.  (And Stubb's death, if The Forest of Doom is to be believed.)

As we left Stonebridge, Redswift and I encountered a trio of Hill Trolls, but we were able to avoid them (with a successful Luck test that left me with a score of 4).  As we travelled, I started to feel ill, and Redswift was looking sick as well. He explained to me that we had both read a Death Spell curse in the caverns of the Snow Witch, and we were dying. He suggested that we look for an old man in the Moonstone Hills known as the Healer.

Eventually Redswift died (good riddance, elf), but I was able to soldier on due to the Potion of Health I had drank earlier. I grew weaker (my Skill dropped to 11, and my Stamina to 20).

I followed the river into the hills (losing another Stamina point), and soon found a hollow tree stump with a rope descending into it. I pulled on the rope, and saw that it was covered in Flesh Grubs. I was lucky to have avoided them (and restored my Luck to 5 because of it).

I came across a footpath leading into the trees, and decided to follow it. There I found a hut, and an old man in robes asleep inside.


The old man's shelves were filled with berries and herbs, so I decided to enter. The old man awoke, and when I asked him if he was the Healer he said that he was, and that he could cure the Death Spell with special herbs that would cost me 50 Gold Pieces. I paid eagerly, and he mixed the herbs into a soup.  I left in high spirits, but after a sleep I felt worse (reducing my Stamina to 16) - the Death Spell was still active. I'd been swindled!

I didn't want to waste more time, so I decided not to exact revenge and instead kept searching for the Healer. On the far bank of the river I could see the smoke of a campfire. I leaped over using some rocks, and (with a roll of 4 on a d6) made it safely to the other side. There I had a pointless fight with a Wild Hill Man, who I killed emphatically.


The Hill Man had a duck cooking on the fire, which I ate (restoring my Stamina to 20). When I was finished, I followed a goat trail higher into the hills (and lost another point of Stamina), then descended into a gorge. I saw a cave in the gorge wall, and decided to investigate.  The cave was dark, and I shouted to see if the Healer was there.  I got no answer, so I left (and lost yet another Stamina point, leaving me with 18).

Along the way, I stepped on a Rattlesnake, but (due to a successful Luck test that left me with a score of 4) when it tried to bite me it instead got a mouthful of my shoe.

Further along the gorge I saw a rope ladder leading up to a wooden hut hidden in a tree. I climbed up, and was attacked by a very mistrustful Man-Orc, who got killed for his trouble (although he did reduce my Stamina to 16). I took a candle and a tinder-box from him and went on my way.


Even further long (uuuggggghhhhhhh finish already) I came across a sleeping Barbarian. As I wasn't wearing Elven Boots (why didn't I nick them off of Redswift's body?), the Barbarian woke up and was very angry indeed.


His implausible body-builder muscles couldn't stop me from killing hm though, and on his body I found three silver arrow-heads and a copper armband engraved with the words 'Strength is Power'. I whipped it on, and found out that it was enchanted (and restored my Skill to 12).

Soon I found a large rock slab carved with the image of a fiery bird, with steps leading up to a cave.


I went inside, where I found an eerie cave full of masks of the most hideous aspect. There was a deformed figure in robes there, and he introduced himself as the Healer. He offered to cure the Death Spell, but warned that it would involve a possibly deadly ritual.


The first trial was to wear the Mask of Life. I put it on, and immediately was wracked with pain. (I had to roll a die and subtract that number from my Stamina; I rolled a 2, and my Stamina was reduced to 14.)

The next trial was to cross a chasm over a narrow log in the dark. I was allowed to light my candle, however, which made things easier, and I crossed with no trouble (and a successful Skill check).

Once I was across the pit, the Healer informed me that if I possessed a dragon egg he could use it to make a relaxing concoction. I used to have one, but I had long ago dropped it in favour of more gold. He warned me that, without this potion, the next stage would be much more difficult.

My third trial was to walk past a wailing Banshee, and she proved to be a horrible sight. I was unnerved by her howling, and the temptation to strike out at her was strong. So strong that, without the Healer's potion, I was unable to resist, and was forced to fight the Banshee. We were evenly matched, and the battle went her way to begin with (she won five Attack Rounds without me scoring a hit), but then the tide turned and I was able to win just barely. (This was another close call, as I finished the fight with 2 points of Stamina. I ate my final Provision, restoring my Stamina to 6.)


We emerged from the Healer's cave, and he informed me that I must watch the sunrise from the summit of Firetop Mountain in order to be cured. I would need something made of silver in order to attract a Pegasus to fly me there, and luckily I had three silver arrow-heads.  The Pegasus flew me to the summit, where I sat down unknowingly in a patch of Sleeping Grass and drifted into a deep sleep.


Dawn approached, and if I didn't wake up I would not be cured of the curse. The Healer sent me a vision in my dreams of a fiery bird, and I needed to remember the name of it in order to wake up. I knew that it was a Phoenix, and was able to pull myself out of my slumber, just as the first rays of dawn crept into view. I was cured!

THE POST-GAME
Wow!  I just finished a gamebook on my first attempt!  How long has it been since I did that?  I think I have to go all the way back to The Forest of Doom.

I wasn't expecting to finish Caverns of the Snow Witch so quickly, but the dice were very good to me.  I rolled near-perfect stats, had some very good fortune with some difficult Luck tests, and just barely scraped through the most deadly combats.  The one choice I made that was the difference between success and failure was taking the Potion of Strength at the beginning.  I remembered that this book was hard on Stamina, and also that it found ways to make you waste your Provisions.  Thankfully my memory was good, and I made the right decision.

But yeah, mostly I can chalk this victory up to luck.  Some memory was involved, particularly in the first half that I played recently in Warlock magazine, but that was a small factor.  The dice were the real hero, and they got me through.  Sometimes, especially when Ian Livingstone is at the helm, that's all you need.

Next: After my wrap-up posts on Caverns of the Snow Witch, I'll be taking a detour to look at Warlock magazine #3, which I can see is mostly a preview of House of Hell.  I've heard that it's somewhat remixed from the book version, so that will be really interesting to check out. I'm looking forward to that Real Steve Jackson goodness.