Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Dervish Stone - Attempts 10, 11 & 12

I'm back, with another post about the inexplicably difficult adventure, The Dervish Stone.  Is it really that hard?  Is fate against me?  Or do I just really suck at Fighting Fantasy?  I don't know.  What I do know is that I am heartily sick of searching for the Stone of Shanhara in the Twin Suns Desert, and it's well past time to finish this up.


For this depressingly high-numbered attempt, I rolled a Skill of 10, a Stamina of 16, and a Luck of 7.  I was happy about the Skill score, but that Luck score was sure to be a killer.  I chose the Potion of Fortune and immediately drank both doses, raising my Initial score to 11.  (As an aside, how much more playable would Fighting Fantasy be if the Skill and Stamina potions allowed for raising the initial scores as well?)

I ran through this adventure with my usual routine: a quick trip through Alasiyan (buying the sword, the eyeglass and a gas capsule), fighting the Night Ghoul, helping the desert nomads with their sandcrawler, and making my way to the castle of Kuperan.  After being captured, I was seated on a griffin and flown out to become lunch for the Earth Demon.  At which point I failed a Luck test, resulting in the griffin dumping me right into the Earth Demon's maw.  I guess I was right about that Luck score, huh?


With a Skill of 9, a Stamina of 16, and a Luck of 10, I had a much more well-rounded character at my disposal.  I chose the Potion of Strength, and went through my usual routine up to the aerial battle with Kuperan's forces.  This time I made the required Luck test, and was able to save myself from falling into the Earth Demon.  The battle was on!

As another Griffin flew past, I managed to hurl its rider into the Demon's mouth below (with a successful Skill test).  An Orc mercenary (Kuperan's right-hand man) made a prodigious leap from the back of Kuperan's blue dragon onto my steed, and I was forced to fight him with no weapon.  The battle went poorly for me, and the Orc wounded me five times before I could knock him out (reducing my Stamina to 5).  I quickly took his sword, and also his boots (which took another Skill test).

Some Goblin archers took aim at my Griffin.  The Orc tried to leap to safety, and I took great satisfaction in watching him drop right into the Earth Demon's mouth.  My own leap, powered by the Orc's magic boots, was more successful.  Safely on the ground, I took a swig from my Potion of Strength (restoring my Stamina back to 16).  Now I had a choice: jump on the griffin carrying the goblin archers, or jump on the back of Kuperan's blue dragon?

I chose the archers, and was able to quickly dispatch them and take control of their Griffin.  Contrary to my fears, the dragon didn't then blast me with its lightning breath, and I was able to pull my Griffin alongside it and leap onto its back.

Kuperan ordered his minions to attack, and was locked in battle with two Nomads and a Hobgoblin.  The first Nomad wounded me twice, but the second I was able to kill with no trouble.  (My Stamina was now 12.)  The Bugbear was more problematic, as we were equal in prowess.  I struck the first blow, and we traded wounds until he was on death's door.  Then out of nowhere he found some sort of berserker fury, and hit me with a flurry of five wounding blows.  Not even luck could save me, as the Bugbear killed me and threw my corpse to the Earth Demon.  My adventure was over!

Losing five attack rounds in a row is always annoying, but aside from learning some tricky dice rolling techniques there wasn't much to be done about it.  It did bring up a wrinkle in the rules though: when can you drink a potion?  The rules say you can drink them anywhere.  I tend to follow the same rules for provisions, which state you can use them at any time except when in battle.  I still had a dose of my Potion of Strength so technically - by the letter of the rules - I should have been able to pop the cork on that bad-boy and restore my Stamina back to full.  I chose not to, and will probably continue with that interpretation of the rules in the future, but I might change my mind in the future if I hit some gamebooks that are really statistically unfair.


Attempt 12 gave me exactly what I'd been looking for: Skill 12, Stamina 21 and Luck 9.  Knowing that there's at least one critical Luck test in the adventure, I took the Potion of Fortune.

Insanity has been defined as taking the same actions over and over again with the same negative results, so I thought I'd switch it up this time.  Rather than buying the magic sword, the glass eye and a gas capsule in Alasiyan, I bought the magic sword and three gas capsules.  There are a number of options involving the gas capsules in the adventure that I hadn't been able to try, and I wanted to check them out.

The first deviation came just before I reached Kuperan's castle.  With the glass eye you can avoid an ambush, but this time I didn't have it, and was shot at by three Nomads with blowpipes.  I had to make three Luck tests, and I failed the second one.  Poison on the dart paralysed me, and the Nomads made off with three items from my backpack.  I got to choose which, so I opted for my regular sword, one provision, and a gas capsule.  It was perhaps not within the spirit of the rules, but I'd already interpreted things to my disfavour in the last game, so it was time for things to go my way for once.

In Kuperan's castle, I was able to bluff the giant by pulling out my last remaining capsule and threatening to let it off.  I demanded information about my quest, and although Kuperan had no idea where the Lost Cave of the Dervishes was, he told me to seek out the Hermit of the Hills.  Kuperan invited me to stay the night, and I pocketed my gas capsule as his various minions went to sleep.

With the whole castle asleep, I decided to take the chance to assassinate Kuperan.  Unfortunately, I tripped on a sleeping Lizard Man, who jumped up to fight me.  He was little match for my unparalleled skill, but the battle woke up the rest of the monsters.  Kuperan forced me to fight his Bronze Golem, and I was back on the regular path leading to my capture and the Earth Demon battle. (I'd hoped to avoid the Bronze Golem fight by taking this path, but I suspect that it might be inevitable.)

I followed the same path through that battle as I had earlier, but this time, after killing the Goblin archers, I had a gas capsule.  Rather than boarding the Blue Dragon, I threw the capsule at his head.  The choking dragon banked over, tipping Kuperan and his minions into the Earth Demon's maw.  The battle was over, and I could finally get past this entirely-too-difficult section of the adventure.

(At this point I had scores of Skill 12, Stamina 13, and Luck 11.  I had 6 gold pieces, two provisions, a sword, a backpack, a lantern, leather armour and some boots of leaping.)

The blue dragon retreated to Kuperan's castle, and I flew in the opposite direction.  Eventually my Griffin grew too tired to go on, so I landed and continued on foot.  To the north I could see some hills, but there was also an obvious track heading through the desert.  Recalling Kuperan's advice about the Hermit of the Hills, I headed north.

As I reached the hills, a shriek alerted me to the attack of a Giant Hawk.  The Hawk's talons scratched my face, but I was otherwise able to kill it with ease.  (This reduced my Stamina to 11.  Before this battle, I had to roll a die, and something would have happened if I'd rolled a 6.  I have no idea if this would have been good or bad, but I suspect the latter.)

Further into the hills I came to a cave, and I decided to light my lantern and enter.  Inside I found the Hermit of the Hills, who informed me that I'd need to pass the "Test of the Scorpion" before he'd tell me anything about the Stone of Shanhara.  I agreed, and he pulled out a jar with three holes in it.  One of the holes contained a scorpion, and I had to place my hand inside one.  If I wasn't stung, I would pass.  I placed my hand inside the third hole, was not stung, and passed the test.

I'm just guessing that this is the hermit, but none of the paragraphs about him are near this image.

The Hermit didn't know where the Lost Cave of Dervishes was, but he knew where to find the map leading to it: in a nest overlooking the Valley of Diamonds.  It was getting dark at that point, so I decided to stay the night with the Hermit and set off in the morning.

In the morning I followed the Hermit's directions, finding a nest with three eggs inside.  With luck (and a Luck test that reduced my score to 10), I was able to enter the nest without breaking the eggs, and there I found the map I was looking for woven into the nest's lining.  I followed the map through some thorn bushes, and I had found the Lost Cave of the Dervishes.

That eyebrow/beard combination is serious business.

Guarding the cave was (of course) a Dervish, who I wasted no time in killing. On his body I found 3 gold pieces, a silver crucifix and a bag of sand.  For some reason I could only take two of these items, so I chose the crucifix and the sand before entering the cave. (I guess this is a trick to catch out greedy players, but I knew at this point gold pieces would be useless to me.)

The cave was home to a pair of giant Crab Spiders, which I made short work of.  Further in, I came to a place where light shone through a crack in the roof, making a pool of light on the floor.  I walked around the light, possibly avoiding some sort of trap.

Soon I came to a chasm, with a rope hanging down for convenient swinging.  I distrusted the rope, so instead I jumped across the chasm using my magic boots of leaping.  (Is it even possible to get here without the boots?) Only a few yards beyond was the chamber that housed the Stone of Shanhara.

The stone stood on a pedestal at the centre of the room.  On the far walls was a line of statues, all holding bows nocked with arrows.  The floor was made up of black and white tiles.

I made my way forward, stepping only on white tiles, and made it to the stone safely.  I could see that the pedestal was trapped, and would be set off if the weight upon it lessened.  I was able to avoid the trap by switching the diamond for my bag of sand.  With the stone in hand, I was able to safely leave the room.

When I reached the chasm again, a wall on the far side started to close, threatening to trap me inside.  I quickly jumped across with my Boots of Leaping, and (with a successful Skill test) was able to slide through the closing door.

There was no time to rest, though, as a giant boulder was rolling at me from somewhere near the cave entrance.  With luck I was able to avoid the boulder, and with more skill I was able to dodge it on the rebound (a Luck test and a Skill test, respectively).  I had finally escaped the cave, and the legendary Stone of Shanhara was in my possession.  I had won!

Uh, did I just drop it in the desert?

Thank fuck for that.  As I had suspected, it was all fairly smooth sailing once I defeated Kuperan's forces, though it's likely that the Test of the Scorpion was a one-in-three chance of instant death, and any of those Skill or Luck tests at the end there could have done me in.  The important thing is that The Dervish Stone is beaten and I can move on.

I'll do a Final Thoughts on The Dervish Stone, as well as an Exploring Titan, even though I'm pretty sure it's not set on Titan at all.  After that, it's back to the main series as I tackle Talisman of Death.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Dervish Stone - Attempts 7, 8 & 9

Due to a lack of posts around here, one commenter has asked whether I've been swallowed up and lost in my quest for the Dervish Stone.  Nothing like that I'm afraid.  What I have been lost in is moving house, and some other pretty significant life changes.  The move means that I now spend about five hours a day travelling back and forth to work, so blogging time has gotten scarce.  I'll still be sticking with it, but perhaps a bit less frequently than I have in the past.  So, without further preamble, here are my next three attempts at beating The Dervish Stone.


For this game I rolled Skill 7, Stamina 23 and Luck 11.  A fortunate fellow, but as most readers will know there's only so much that Luck can do to offset having the lowest possible Skill.  I had little hope for this particular adventurer.

I've settled into a routine for the early stages of The Dervish Stone: find the potion of human control, use it to get past the guards into Alasiyan, buy some things from the Dwarf Nomad (the magic sword, the glass eye and a gas capsule), and ignore everything else in town.  The only thing I haven't done in Alasiyan that I'm aware of is defeat Gumpas, the sorcerer-governer.  For the moment, I've decided that he's not a crucial encounter.  Maybe if I roll a Skill of 12 I'll go back and give him what for.

Once out of Alasiyan I camped for the night, only to be attacked by a Night Ghoul.  I almost died right here; the creature hit me three times, and only through extensive use of my Luck was I able to scrape through without being paralysed.

The next morning I headed into the desert, and chose to take a rise rather than the flat path.  Eventually I could see a camp of cat-men named Laupers below, but while spying on it with my glass eye I was ambushed by another Lauper and a War-Cat.  Luck couldn't help me here.  I killed the War-Cat, but the Lauper killed me in return.

That Skill of 7 was a guaranteed death-sentence.  That said, I should have taken the flat path.  It has no difficult encounters, and I don't think either path gets me anything useful.


With a Skill of 9, a Stamina of 16 and a Luck of 9, I had a somewhat more viable character.  I chose the Potion of Fortune and was off.

As before I blasted quickly through Alasiyan, and fared a bit better against the Night Ghoul: by the end of that battle I was left with a Stamina of 11, which I raised back up to 15 by eating a provision.

I chose the flat path through the desert, encountering some Nomads struggling to corral their Sandcrawler.  I helped them out, and was rewarded with 5 gold pieces (raising my total to 7).

Following the tracks of the Sandcrawler, I came to a road where I could see a wagon approaching.  I hid from the wagon until it passed. Further along, I used my glass eye to avoid some bandits, and eventually came to a castle which I grimly entered.

Two Bugbear guards accosted me, but I killed them both with a gas capsule.  I pushed on, coming to the court of the giant Kuperan, Monarch of the Sands, who forced me to do battle with his Bronze Golem, Talus.

The Bronze Golem was a strong foe, whose molten blood was a danger I could not avoid if I hoped to win.  With a great deal of luck, I was able to prevail (leaving me with 10 Stamina; my Luck would have been reduced to 6, but a bonus after the fight brought me back up to 9).  Kuperan had me dragged away to a cell, declaring that I'd be food for the Earth Demon tomorrow.

In the cell I ate a provision (restoring my Stamina to 14) and went to sleep.  While I slept, "hellrats" ate another of my provisions.  (I'm starting to think that losing Stamina by staying awake may be better than losing a provision.)

The next morning I was taken outside and loaded onto a Griffin.  Other guards were riding Griffins, and Kuperan was there mounted on a Blue Dragon.  The lot of us took to the skies, heading for the Earth Demon, a huge mouth in the ground with a tongue snaking out from it.  I decided to play along for a while until I could make my escape.

My chance came when my Griffin dived toward the Earth Demon and tried to throw me off.  Luckily (requiring a Luck test that reduced my score to 8), I was able to catch the Griffin's wing and pull myself back into the saddle.  A Griffin-mounted Lauper flew in to attack me, but I flung him from his saddle as he passed.  (I'm still unsure of the correct rule here.  Success is a roll under my Skill, but failure is a roll over my Stamina?  One of those is incorrect.  Currently, I'm doing it as a Skill roll.)

The Lauper's Griffin went shrieking out across the desert, but I ignored it.  As I pulled my own Griffin around, an Orc leaped a full 25 feet from the back of the Blue Dragon to attack me.  I was unarmed, and the Orc struck me five blows before I could knock him unconscious (leaving me with 4 Stamina).  While my Griffin flew erratically, I took the time to loot the Orc of his sword and boots.  (This required a roll against my Skill.  Why I'm taking the Orc's boots, I have no idea, but doing so restored my Luck to 9.)

Another Griffin flew by, carrying two Goblin archers who peppered my mount with arrows.  The Orc chose that moment to wake up, and make an attempt to leap to safety.  With a confused look on his face, he tumbled down into the maw of the Earth Demon.  I decided to try to make my own leap to safety, as it was pretty obvious that my Griffin was done for.  Much to my surprise, I made the jump to safety; the Orc's boots were actually Boots of Leaping.  Armed with these magic boots, I made a bold leap onto the back of the Blue Dragon, reasoning that the Goblins wouldn't risk firing at their own leader.

Three of Kuperan's guards attacked me as I landed: two Nomads and a Bugbear.  I took care of the Nomads with ease, but the Bugbear was too much for me in my weakened state, and my adventure was over.

That's the furthest I've gotten so far, but once again the dice killed me.  I'm starting to think that I should be taking the Potion of Strength rather than Fortune, as the book has plenty of Luck bonuses throughout.  With that, I might stand a better chance of getting through the gauntlet of battles against Kuperan's forces.  Also, I'm a little worried that I made the wrong choice by jumping onto the Dragon's back, but either choice seems bad to me.  Riddled with arrows, or blasted with dragon breath?  Those are the risks I'm choosing between.


This time I rolled Skill 8, Stamina 16, and Luck 9.  I chose the Potion of Strength.

I'm going to skim over this game pretty quickly, because I made pretty much all the same choices as in Attempt 8.  I killed the Night Ghoul without being wounded.  The Bronze Golem was a real pain, and I was left with only 1 point of Stamina at the end of that.  I used a dose from my Potion of Strength to restore my Stamina, and stayed awake for the night.  Staying awake reduced my Stamina to 16, but it stopped the hellrats from eating one of my provisions, so it's probably a better choice.

During the battle over the Earth Demon I was doing well, until the Orc leaped onto my Griffin.  Without a sword, my Skill against him was 5, compared to his Skill of 7.  What resulted was a massacre, as he dropped me from 16 Stamina to 0 without me landing a single blow.  I tried to use my Luck to survive longer, but it did no good.  My Skill was against me, the die was against me, and possible fate itself was against me.

Not much I could do about that, I'm sorry to say.  It's becoming apparent that I need a decent Skill score to have a chance.

I'm getting a little sick of The Dervish Stone: it's far too linear for its own good.  That said, the fight in the skies is rather exciting and well done, and reminds of the sort of set-piece battles that Joe Dever excels at in his Lone Wolf series.  Hopefully next time I'll get past it, and put this adventure to bed.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Dervish Stone - Attempts 5 & 6

Another weekend, another couple of cracks at The Dervish Stone, Paul Struth's adventure from Warlock #4.  To be honest, these failures are starting to get to me.  I mean, I finished Caverns of the Snow Witch on my first go, and I can't beat this thing?  It's an embarrassment is what it is.


Speaking of embarrassments, let's get on with Attempt 5.  I rolled a Skill of 10, a Stamina of 18, and a Luck of 8.  I chose the Potion of Fortune, but none of this is important because this adventurer was incredibly ill-fated.  I went through the usual routine in Alasiyan, avoiding trouble and buying a magic sword, until I had to camp for the night outside.  The Night Ghoul attacked me as I slept, and just as he had in Attempt 1 the bastard hit me four times and paralysed me.  All this despite it having a Skill of 8, and me having an effective Skill of 11.  Now, if I was being pedantic I could point out that the adventure simply says you're paralysed after four hits, but it doesn't say what happens after that.  It doesn't give you those dreaded words "your adventure ends here" or "your quest is over".  Maybe the Night Ghoul wanders off and lets you live?  It's possible.  Maybe it curls up asleep next to your paralysed form, like a dog?  Maybe it transforms into a beautiful woman and... nah.  This is Fighting Fantasy.  It totally just ate me alive, and no pedantry can change that fact.  Bugger it.


Okay, let's try that again.  This time I rolled a Skill of 11, a Stamina of 17, and a Luck of 12.  It doesn't get much better than that.  With such a high Luck, I opted for the Potion of Strength instead.  The book has plenty of Luck bonuses, so I decided to go for a Stamina boost instead.

Starting off, I found the Potion of Human Control and used it to make my way into Alasiyan without being bothered by the guards.  I bought some items from the dwarf nomad (a magic sword, a glass eye, and a gas capsule) and made my way through the town ignoring pretty much everything else.  When the Night Ghoul attacked me I made short work of it, and it was time for the adventure proper to begin.  (At this point I had been reduced to 14 Stamina, and had 2 gold pieces remaining.)

I chose the flat path into the desert rather than the rise, and soon came across ten nomads struggling to control a giant centipede-like creature that they called a sandcrawler.  I offered my help, and together we were able to stop it from burrowing away.  (This required a roll of two dice totalling less than my Stamina, which was impossible for me to fail.)  The nomads were grateful, and rewarded me with 5 gold pieces, bringing my total to 7.  They warned me not to go further into the desert, so I followed the sandcrawler's tracks.

Soon I came to a road, where I could see a cart approaching.  Three lizard-men were driving the cart, but rather than hide I decided to hail them with a friendly greeting.  I ought to have known better: the Lizard Men attacked!  Luckily for me they attacked one at a time, and despite a pair of wounds I was able to kill them (with my Stamina now reduced to 10).

Inside the cart were four humans and a goblin, chained together as slaves.  I freed them, and asked if they knew anything about the Stone of Shanhara.  None of them had heard of it, but an old man said that I should seek the advice of Kuperan the Fire Giant - provided I could survive his castle and courtiers.  Thanks for nothing, geezer!

I made my way through a gully, avoiding a nomad ambush due to my glass eye, and soon came to a castle.  At this point night was falling, and I had lost a lot of strength due to extreme hunger.  (My Stamina dropped from 10 to 5 here, because I had forgotten to eat after leaving Alasiyan.  I'm not sure when I should allow myself to eat provisions.  The rules at the start say you can do it whenever you want, as long as it's not in the middle of battle.  The adventure, however, tells you when you can eat provisions, much as in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.  In that book, you could only eat when instructed.  So which is it in The Dervish Stone?  I guess the rules and the instructions on when you can eat aren't mutually exclusive, I just find it a little odd to have them both.  I'd been waiting for the book to tell me when to eat, but from now on I'm just going to let myself eat whenever.  In this instance, I used a dose from my Potion of Strength to return to my initial Stamina of 17.)

I entered the castle, and was confronted by a pair of bugbear guards.  One of them wounded me (reducing my Stamina to 15), but with some deft swordplay I was able to kill them both.  (Strictly speaking, I was probably meant to take the option here that asks if I have a gas capsule.  I didn't notice it until after I'd fought the bugbears already.)

Walking down some stairs, I came to a rowdy hall filled with monsters.  A fire giant introduced himself as Kuperan, monarch of the sands.  Feeling somewhat cornered, I whipped out a gas capsule and threatened to kill everyone in the room if they didn't answer my questions.  Kuperan claimed to know nothing about the stone, or the Lost Cave of the Dervishes, but he suggested that the Hermit of the Hills might.  He also politely invited me to stay for the night, and I told him to sod off because monsters can't be trusted.  No wait, I... stayed the night?!?  (Seriously, why would I do this?  Maybe the desert is dangerous at night, but it still seems like a ridiculous decision, and not one I would have opted for if I'd been given a choice.)

Rather then going to sleep among the monsters, or investigating a nearby bronze statue, I decided to assassinate Kuperan in his sleep.  Unfortunately I failed to follow Assassination Rule #1: Don't Trip Over a Bloody Lizard Man.  The Lizard Man died quickly, but not before the other monsters were woken up.  Kuperan summoned Talus, his personal Bronze Golem, and I had another fight for my life on my hands.  For every blow I struck I would be sprayed with its molten blood, but luck was on my side, and I was able to destroy the golem with but a few wounds and burns.  (Every time I wounded the golem, I also took 1 point of damage, so I used my Luck score to kill him as quickly as possible.  It still dropped me to 8 Stamina before I beat it, but a post-battle bonus brought my Luck back up to 12.)

I was dragged off to a cell, where I ate one of my provisions (restoring my Stamina to 12).  Then I went to sleep, but while I did some "hellrats" ate another of my meals.  (What's a hellrat anyway?)  In the morning I was dragged outside, where some guards awaited with a pack of griffin mounts.  I was going to be sacrificed to an Earth Demon, apparently.  I was placed on my own griffin before we took off, with Kuperan riding a blue dragon (!) in the rear.  (Pretty sure I would have noticed that dragon before we took off.  Also, does anyone else get really annoyed by the spelling of griffin?  It's a GRIFFON!  With an O!  There shall be no variance in the spellings of mythological beasts!)

I stayed on my griffin, and eventually we reached a pit in the sand, with a huge mouth at the bottom.  (Oi, I thought I told you to stop it with the Star Wars references, Struth!)  My griffin dived and tried to fling me off, but I was able to hold on (with a successful Luck test that reduced my score to 11).  A cat-like guard flew in to attack me, but I was able to pull him from his saddle and fling him into the maw of the Earth Demon.  (This was a weird one.  I had to roll two dice, with success being a result equal to or less than my Skill.  The failure result, though, was a result higher than my Stamina.  It was probably just a typo, but which way?  Should it have been a roll against Skill or Stamina?  The former seems more likely, and that's what I went with.)

Tim Sell really didn't want to draw the body of that Griffin.

The cat-man's griffin fled out across the desert, and I decided to follow it.  At that point Kuperan's dragon breathed a bolt of lightning right at me, and I was burned to a crisp without warning.  My adventure was over!

Ugh.  Both of those deaths were pretty annoying, and out of my control.  The first one I don't mind too much: dying in combat is a part of the FF experience, and bad dice rolls are bound to happen at one point or another.  I couldn't even tell you what I did wrong in the last game though.  I was given the choice of going after the griffin or not, and there wasn't a lot of context given aside from that.  Instant death paragraphs are also a part of the FF experience, but I feel like there should be at least some sort of warning or sign of danger.  I didn't realise I was fleeing, or I wouldn't have done it.  The only other option I had was seemingly "do nothing", and that didn't seem worthwhile at all.  Ah well, I guess I have to play this stupid gamebook again.  Curses!

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Dervish Stone - Attempts 3 & 4

To be honest, I had assumed that The Dervish Stone would be a one post job.  A short adventure in a spin-off magazine, from an author I'd never heard of?  Easy pickings, I figured.  After a couple of attempts, I still don't feel like it's too difficult, but it's apparent that when you play by the rules even the simplest FF gamebooks can be difficult.


Which brings me to my third go at the adventure.  I scores were Skill 10, Stamina 21 and Luck 10, a very capable and well-rounded character.  I chose the Potion of Fortune, and it was off to the races.  My goal this time was to explore some different avenues in the town of Alasiyan, and to that end I was going to be a bit more belligerent and, quite frankly, a bit more stupid.

After finding Jakor One-Eye's note, I ignored his hidden potion and walked down to Alasiyan.  When a pair of guards came up to me asking to look in my backpack, I refused, and they drew steel.  I made short work of the two, and made my way into town.

While in town I bought three items from a dwarf nomad: a magic sword, a glass eye and a gas capsule.  This left me with 2 gold pieces.

Further along I saw a building guarded by a pair of hobgoblins.  I tried to enter, but the guards told me I'd need an invitation from the governor.  Still confident from the spot of guard-murdering I'd done earlier, and newly armed with a magic sword, I attacked.  One of the hobgoblins wounded me (reducing my Stamina to 19), but I was able to defeat them with ease.  One of them had a bronze key, which I used to unlock the door.

I think this goes here, but it's hard to tell with so many paragraph entries per page.

I entered the building, and found a hallway with stairs leading up.  There was also a door, with the sounds of raucous partying coming from behind, but I decided to take the stairs instead.  In a room at the top of the stairs I saw a fat man in rich robes, with another hobgoblin at his side.  As soon as I did, the man pointed at me, blasting me with a lightning bolt from his finger (and leaving me with 15 Stamina).  Then his bodyguard attacked me, and was revealed not as a hobgoblin, but as a Thoul, a strange hybrid of Troll, Hobgoblin and Ghoul.  (How does that even happen?)  Had he wounded me four times, I would have been paralysed.  Because I'm amazing he wounded me no times, and I was able to lay this abomination to rest.

The man introduced himself as Gumpas, Sorcerer-Governer of Alasiyan, and then immediately shot a fireball at me.  (That's some Ric Flair heel shit right there.)  I was able to dodge (with a successful Luck test), but he turned invisible and attacked me.  I was able to strike him one with a lucky blow, but the invisible sorcerer proved to much for me.  Perhaps I should have stuck to my quest instead of getting in fights with wizards.

What I just said.  Maybe this encounter gives me some awesome treasure or something, but I have the suspicion that it's a pointless side-track.  Gumpas has a Skill of 10, but Paul Struth pulls his favourite weird trick of giving the enemy an Attack Strength bonus (due to invisibility) that give him an effective Skill of 12.  My Skill was 11, so I should have been competitive, but it was a rout.  Even using my Luck heavily, I was beaten with ease.


This time I rolled Skill 10, Stamina 18 and Luck 7.  There was no doubt about taking the Potion of Fortune this time.

Once again I ignored the potion, but when the guards came up to me I happily let them look in my bag.  Upon seeing my Potion of Fortune, they asked me to accompany them to their office while they talked to their master.  I was ushered into a building, where a scribe took one look at my potion and had me thrown in a cell.

In the cell with me was an "elfin-like young man", who I had a good long chat to.  He told me I'd be released soon, but my potion would be confiscated.  Apparently the governor of the town was a sorcerer (REALLY?), who had already taken the young man's potion of longevity.  He offered to help me steal it back later if I met him at the Den of Thieves that night.  I thanked him and waited for half an hour until I was released (losing my potion, which left me with a Luck of 6).

In Alasiyan I bought a magic sword and a glass eye from a dwarf nomad, leaving myself with the 5 gold I knew I'd need later.  I also ignored a building guarded by some hobgoblins, and made my way to the One Safe Wall Inn.  There I took a seat by myself, and was confronted by a goblin who wanted to know if my name was Snurd Hideflayer.  I said that it wasn't, and he walked away cursing this Snurd, whoever he was.  After a short time I left the inn and walked out of town.

By this time night was falling, so I made my way to the surprisingly-easy-to-find Den of Thieves.  The young man stole my potion back, and returned it to me in exchange for 5 gold pieces.  (I have to say that I'm a little disappointed with this section.  I was hoping this burglary would be a little more involved.  Anyway, this left me with 0 gold, but restored my Luck to 7.)

I went to sleep in some huts outside of town, and had to kill a Night Ghoul in order to get some rest.  The next morning I went out into the desert, taking the flatter path.  After I time I encountered ten nomads, who were struggling with a giant centipede-like creature that was trying to burrow away and escape.  I stopped to offer my help, and the nomads explained that the creature was a sandcrawler.  Rather than trust the nomads I tried to talk to the creature, but it could not understand me.  It got away from the nomads, and they eyed me with disgust as I left.  (I had a number of misconceptions in this encounter.  First, I thought the nomads were fighting the centipede, which I was wrong about.  Then I thought that maybe the centipede would be an intelligent creature, and that if I spoke to it and helped it escape it would help me in turn.  Nope, it was a dumb animal, and I couldn't talk to it without a magic ring. This reduced my Luck to 6.)

I decided to follow the sandcrawler's tracks, and they led me to a road where I could see a cart approaching.  I hid from the cart, and it passed by.  (In actual fact, I threw a gas capsule that I forgot I didn't have.  Earlier, I bought the capsule, not remembering that I'd need the money for the thief.  When I met the thief it was assumed that I had the money, so I did a retcon and crossed the capsule off my equipment list.  For whatever reason, I then forgot that I didn't have it, and used it to indiscriminately murder the occupants of the cart: three lizard-men, and four humans chained together with a goblin.   I found some stuff in the cart, but none of it was used later on, so I'm just going to retcon it again and say that I hid from the cart.  I'm really not with it today.)

Soon I came to a gully, but using my glass eye I was able to spot some ambushers and avoid them.  Beyond the gully I saw a castle, but rather than approach it I decided to sleep for the night in some rocks.  I lost a lot of my strength due to hunger and exposure to the cold.  (I'd forgotten to eat since leaving Alasiyan, and lost a whopping 5 Stamina.  Instead of, you know, just pulling out a meal and eating it then and there.  I lost a further 2 due to exposure, which left me with 11.)

During the night I was attacked by a huge Rock Toad.  In terms of pure combat prowess I was more than a match for it, but the creature kept pulling me in with its tongue and biting me with its vicious teeth.  There was nothing I could do, and the Rock Toad killed me.

So I fell prey to my biggest weakness when playing gamebooks for the blog: the desire to explore new pathways.  Some of them, like being thrown in a cell in Alasiyan, were fun, and gave the book a little more texture.  Others, like sleeping in the desert, were deadly.  That Rock Toad fight is brutal: every round it has a 50/50 chance of drawing you in with its tongue, dealing 4 points of damage.  It only takes a few failures to die, and I copped three in a row.  In a straight fight I would have won, but that's not what I was up against.  Next time, I think it's time to knuckle down and take a serious crack at finishing this thing.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Dervish Stone - Attempt 1 & 2

Only one skull? This looks way safer than most FF adventures.

The Dervish Stone is an adventure from the back half of Warlock magazine #4, the first of a number that I'll be covering as the blog progresses.  It's written by Paul Struth, and illustrated by Tim Sell.  We know Tim Sell's work from House of Hell, but Struth is new to me.  I'm pretty sure that this is his only contribution to the franchise, but he did have an unofficial adventure published in Fighting Fantazine #7.  By my timeline, he gets the distinction of being the first person not named Steve Jackson or Ian Livingstone to write an FF adventure.

The background to The Dervish Stone is a simple one: a diamond known as the Stone of Shanhara has been lost for centuries, but YOU have found a parchment that says the stone is located in Twin Sun Desert.

You have to respect a guy who uses "whomever" while on the verge of death.

The rules are similarly basic, with no deviations from standard Fighting Fantasy game-play.  Like most adventurers on Titan, you begin with a sword, leather armor and a backpack, as well as 20 gold pieces.  This being half-length adventure, you only begin with 5 provisions, but you still get to choose between a Potion of Skill, Strength or Fortune.  The potions have two doses, which seems generous.


I rolled the following stats: Skill 10, Stamina 20 and Luck 8.  With such a low Luck score, I opted for the Potion of Fortune.  Having never played this adventure before, I have no idea whether these stats will be good enough.  For the first time in the history of the blog, I'm genuinely flying blind here.

At the beginning of the adventure, I was on my way to the town of Alasiyan, on the edge of Twin Sun Desert.  As I slid down a hill, I found the partially buried body of a fellow named Jakor One-Eye, and upon unearthing it I found 20 gold pieces and a piece of parchment (the aforementioned note from the background).  Being a customarily treasure-hungry and foolhardy adventurer, I determined to hunt for the Stone of Shanhara, risking my own life in the process.  (Obviously these 20 gold pieces are the sum mentioned in your equipment list at the beginning, but you could count it as extra if you're feeling pedantic.)

I decided to search for Jakor's potion, eventually finding it in a cleft as the note indicated.  The label read "CONTROL HUMAN".  While I was pocketing it a small lizard bit me on the hand (reducing my Stamina to 19); the "guardian" that the noted warned of had obviously died or wandered off long ago  (To be honest, I had thought that the guardian in the note would be guarding the Stone of Shanhara, not the potion.)

I approached Alasiyan, and some town guards accosted me and asked to have a look in my backpack.  This sort of situation never ends well for backpack owners, so I popped open my Potion of Human Control and used it to charm the guards into letting me pass by freely.  (I'm sensing a strong Star Wars, jedi mind-trick vibe.  This would have increased my Luck if I wasn't already at maximum.  I'm not sure it's even possible lose any Luck by this point.)

As I walked through Alasiyan, I noticed a crowd surrounding a dwarf nomad, who was tattooed with the mark of the Twin Sun.  He was telling stories about life in the desert, so I moved closer to listen.  Upon seeing me, he declared that I was a "man of the world", and that I'd need to buy some items from him if I was going into the desert.  I had a look at his wares: gas capsules, a glass eye, a sword, and a knife.  I bought the capsules, the eye and the knife, which left me with 5 gold pieces.

The capsules released a poisonous gas on impact, but I only bought one of them.  The glass eye was "fashioned by a Master Mage of Alasiyan called Ylaruam", and allowed me to see objects that were far away.  The knife was magical, and could be used in battle only once to automatically inflict a wound.  Pleased with my new gear, I moved on.  (Miraculously, everything I bought was useful.  Normally there's a dud or cursed item in every FF shopping list.  I should also mention that Ylaruam is a country in the Dungeons & Dragons setting known as Mystara.  I'm not sure which came first, but it seems far more likely that Paul Struth nicked the name from D&D than the other way round.)

Soon I passed a large house with a pair of hobgoblin guards.  I approached them, but they told me that there was no seeing the governor without an appointment.  Not wishing to start any trouble, I took my leave.

On the outskirts of town, I saw the 'One Safe Wall Inn'.  Weighing the danger inherent in the name against a stiff drink, I chose to enter the bar, but had second thoughts when a goblin went flying past me into the wall.  (The one safe wall, I assume.)  A sign at bar read 'Humanoids Welcome', so I approached.  (The book hasn't specified that I'm humanoid, though, so this could be dangerous if I'm a talking dog or an amoeba or something.)

I'm still trying to figure out if that goblin's head has been twisted the wrong way round.

At the bar I bought a glass of "spliced liquor".  (Spliced? Does it taste like cricket bats?)  I took my drink to a table, where I was approached by a goblin who asked if my name was Snurd Hideflayer.  Having heard it, I suddenly wished my name really was Snurd Hideflayer, so I answered yes.  He drew a sword from his "belt of death weapons" and attacked.  The battle was vicious, and the goblin wounded me four times before I could kill it.  Wherever Snurd Hideflayer was, I just saved his ass.  (This left me with 11 Stamina.  Due to his ferocity this goblin got a +2 bonus to his Attack Strength, which I can't really see the point of.  Why not just give him a Skill of 9, it amounts to the same thing as far as monsters are concerned.  Either way, that's a damn tough goblin.)

I left the inn (presumably leaving my cricket-bat-flavoured drink behind), and walked out of Alasiyan just as the sun was setting.  Not wishing to sleep in the lawless town, I sought refuge in some beehive buildings nearby.  Lawlessness, however, is probably preferable to lifelessness; as I lay sleeping a rotting Night Ghoul crept up on me.  I woke up just in time to defend myself.

That defense proved inadequate, though, as the ghoul struck me four times.  Paralysis set in, and I resigned myself to the horrible fate of being eaten alive.  My adventure was over before I even made it to the desert!

Well, there wasn't much I could do about that.  The ghoul only had a Skill of 8, while my Skill was 10, but the dice betrayed me.  I could have avoided the battle if I'd gained an invitation to the 'den of thieves', so I'll have to look out for that next time.


I was disappointed with such a short adventure, so I decided to have another crack at it straight away.  This time I rolled a Skill of 10, a Stamina of 18 and a Luck of 11.  Despite my high Luck, I still chose the Potion of Fortune, because I just love using it to jack my score up over 12.

Once again I claimed the Potion of Human Control and used it to get into Alasiyan without being searched by the guards.  From the dwarf nomad, I bought the glass eye, and a magic sword, which left me with 5 gold pieces.  (The sword granted a +1 bonus to my Attack Strength, which is absolutely the right way for an FF adventure to handle magic weapons.  Give Paul Struth a medal, he gets it.)

I ignored the house guarded by the hobgoblins, and went to the tavern.  This time, after buying another spliced liquor, I stayed at the bar.  (Maybe it tastes like the delicious icy pole/ice cream?  The red ones are the best.)  A gnoll and a lizard-man started hassling me.  "He doesn't like you," said the gnoll.  "I don't like you either."  I knows fightin' words when I hears 'em, so I drew my sword and - despite each of them wounding me once - slaughtered the both of them.  (This left me with 14 Stamina, and a fervent hope that this adventure might stop quoting Star Wars at me.)

I left the inn, sought refuge in a hut, and was attacked by the Night Ghoul.  This time it only wounded me once before my enchanted sword sent it shrieking back to its grave.  After a fitful night's sleep, it was time to head out into the desert.

I chose to go up a rise rather than continue along the flat ground, and at the top I spied some tents.  Using my magic glass eye I had a closer look, and saw a bunch of cat-man hybrids.  I should have been watching my back, though, because another of them had snuck up behind me intending to crack my head open.  I avoided the blow (with a successful Luck test), but dropped my glass eye.  The creature was a Lauper, and it was accompanied by a vicious war-cat.  Miraculously, I was able to fight back and kill them at the cost of but a single wound.  (This left me with a Stamina of 12, and a Luck of 9.  Also, more bloody Star Wars.  Hey, Paul Struth!  Star Wars wasn't cool in 1985!)

A loin-cloth shot for the furries.

Searching the bodies of my foes, I found a Ring of Animal Control and a pair of iron war claws.  I stopped to eat a provision (restoring my Stamina to 16) before moving on along the rise.  Soon the rise sloped down and came to a road, where I could hear the sound of cartwheels.  Three lizard-men were riding in the cart, so I hid and let them pass by.

Lizard-men with horses weirds me out.

The road soon came to a gully.  Without the magic glass eye, I was taken by surprise by a trio of nomads, who shot me with blowdarts.  One of the darts hit me (as I failed one of a series of Luck tests), and I was knocked out.  When I woke up, they had stolen my sword, my Ring of Animal Control, and my war claws.  I drank my Potion of Fortune in order to restore my luck.  (This raised my Luck score to 12.  I got to choose which three items the nomads stole, so I rather cheekily had them nick my regular, non-magical sword.  It counts!)

Night was falling as I came to a weird castle.  (At this point, I was told to lose 5 Stamina if I hadn't eaten since leaving Alasiyan.  Outside of Sorcery!, where they don't restore Stamina, this isn't how provisions usually work in FF.  This adventure combines the Stamina boost for eating one with a Stamina loss for not eating, which I take issue with for no other reason than traditionalism.  It's one or the other, Struth!)

If I made a castle out of clay,it would look a lot like this.

I walked up to the castle, and decided to light my lantern and step through the open gates.  (I have a lantern now?)  Suddenly the gates shut behind me, and out of the dark loomed two huge Bugbears.  Wielding my magic sword I cut them down, though one of them was able to wound me (leaving me with 12 Stamina).

Tim Sell needs to learn what plate mail looks like.

The corridor continued, ending at some stairs that led down to a chamber full of Nomads, Bugbears, Laupers, and the like.  I was caught by a Bugbear and dragged in front of a Fire Giant who named himself Kuperan, Monarch of the Sands.  Beside the Giant was an Orc Mercenary.  I drew my sword, but rather than fight me himself, the Giant summoned Talus, his Bronze Golem.  The Golem was filled with liquid fire, and every time I wounded it the spraying blood burned me.  It only struck me once, but I was badly hurt by the time I had defeated Talus.  (My Stamina was reduced to 5.  Winning the fight would have granted me 3 Luck points, but I was already at maximum.)

What is with that Orc?  I don't even know where to begin.

The enraged Giant told me that I'd be given as a tribute to the Earth Demon tomorrow, and I was marched off to a cell.  The guards took my sword, but left my other gear, so I ate a meal (restoring my Stamina to 9.)  I tried to escape, but was unable to find a way out, and was greatly fatigued when the guards came to fetch me in the morning (leaving me with 7 Stamina).

I was dragged outside, where a pack of griffons was waiting.  Rather than go peacefully, I tried to make a run for it.  A guard fired an arrow at me, but it missed (due to a successful Luck test).  Now I was lost in the desert though.  My water dried up, and my food went bad.  Luckily (another successful Luck test) a merchant caravan crossed my path, and offered to take me back to Alasiyan for 5 gold pieces.  I didn't have that much gold, so presumably the buggers left me to die.  Regardless, my adventure would have been over either way.

Well, that was a lot of stumbling around with no particular idea of what exactly I'm looking for.  I know I need to find a cave, but I have no idea if I was on the right track or not.  Hopefully next time I'll make more progress, or get a better idea of where I'm meant to go. I suspect that maybe I shouldn't have escaped at the end there, but I can test that next time around.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Warlock Magazine #4

Editorial: The magazine opens with an editorial that names the winners of the various competitions held over the last few issues.  The most notable of these is Paul Struth, whose adventure The Dervish Stone appears later on.  Not much of interest otherwise, aside from Ian and Steve signing off with a plea for us to "keep bashing the orcs".  Will do, lads!

Out of the Pit: This entry features four new beasties created by Marc Gascoigne, who it is noted is currently editing an unnamed collection of monsters.  All of them are appearing here for the first time, and they all make it into that monster book.  I wonder what it's title will be...
  Caarth: These snake men rule the deserts south of human civilization, lording it over tribes of ape-men and neanderthals.  Intelligent, strong and merciless, the Caarth are stopped from conquering the lands around them only by their aversion to temperate and colder climates.  A few tidbits of FF lore are dropped in this short entry.  First, we learn that men descended from apes, and orcs were crossed with swine.  (Bleargh, get your pig orcs outta my fantasy, Gascoigne.)  The Snake Demon Sith is mentioned, as he is worshipped by the high priests of the Caarth.  Overall they're a cool monster, and it's a wonder that there was never a gamebook centered around them.
  Death Spider: The demonic creatures have the five-metre-wide body of a spider and the head of a human.  Their webs are their link to the Realm of the Damned, and any adventurers caught within it - or paralysed by the spider's bite and dragged into it - will be bitten until they die.  The web and the corpses within will then fade away back to the demonic plane, where their soul will be tortured for eternity.  Is this the first real notion we get that demons are a thing in Titan?  I guess there's been the Mirror Demon in Deathtrap Dungeon, and the Ice Demon from Caverns of the Snow Witch.  I'm probably forgetting others as well, but this seems to me to be the first blatant "torture your soul in hell" type of demon.
  Strangle Weed: This plant grows in Darkwood Forest, and... look, it's a plant with vines that will strangle you to death.  It's not much else to say about it, although the macabre touch of it raising dead adventurers over its head to squeeze out the juices, then leaving the skeletons hanging above is pretty great.
  Krell: These are six-armed apes that can be tamed, and taught tricks.  There are tales of the arch-wizard Belandros, who even taught his pets how to speak the language of men "though, it must be said, with a thick eastern accent!"  They supposedly dwell in jungles to the east, though I'm not sure where that would be.  There aren't really many jungles on the continent of Allansia, certainly none to the east of the area where most of the gamebooks had been set to this point.  There are some jungles to the south, past the Desert of Skulls, so maybe there.   Otherwise I guess we could place them on Khul, which is technically east of Allansia.  Shit, you can put anything in Khul and it works, that's the whole point of it.

Warlock Profile: This month's artist's profile is on Iain McCaig, and it's presented in the form of a comic strip drawn by McCaig himself.  It shows off his seldom seen flair for comedy, as a cigar-smoking dragon shows the reader around McCaig's mansion, but it doesn't really tell us anything about the man himself.  Unless you want to believe that he was born shortly after the dinosaurs, and grew up drawing on cave walls.

Tricks & Traps by Ian Livingstone: "Throw a few Skill 12 monsters at 'em, that'll get the little fuckers."  Jeez, short article, Ian.
  Haha, I kid.  This actually is a short article, in which Ian outlines some basic traps: falling stone blocks, pits, illusions, riddles, the rudimentary stuff.  Of more interest are the John Blanche illustrations that accompany them.  It ends with a competition, inviting the readers to submit their own ideas to the magazine.  They'll no doubt show more imagination than the examples Ian provided (not that he's short of imagination, but it's obvious that he's saving his best ideas for the books).

Cartoon Competition Results: The winner and runner-up of the cartoon competition are printed.  The first is a two-pager showing the adventures of Arkenor the Wizard, and the runner-up is a guide on "How to be an Adventurer".  Neither are all that funny to my humourless, jaded self.  If these are the winners, I'd actually be more interested to see the other entries.  Awfulness is far more interesting to me then mediocrity.

The Warlock's Quill: Stephen Taylor of Newport gives some general praise.  Russell Cooper of Southport wants Skill to decrease along with Stamina, because he obviously hates winning. S. Wilson of Sheerness provides a system for calculating XP and levelling up in FF.  The editor (Ian, I assume) dismisses it with some twaddle about how the books would then have to get increasingly tougher, never mind that there's already a massive discrepancy between adventurers with Skill 7 and Skill 12.  Patrick Fahy of Epping ranks the books (with Starship Traveller at the bottom and Deathtrap Dungeon at the top).  He also whines about the Maze of Zagor being impossible.  Crybaby.  Michael Waite  of Dorchester wonders why the adventure sheet for House of Hell in Warlock #3 had sections for magic spells.  Paul Cater Malden of Essex wants an FF convention.  L. Heilbronn of Malda Vale thinks it's very important to let us all know that she's a girl.  Lewis Tennant of Tregaron wants an FF version of Disneyland.  And Daniel Clayton of Salisbury is annoyed that Warlock has printed nothing but rehashes of existing adventures.

Expanding Fighting Fantasy - Experience and Character Improvement by Graeme Davis: This article provides a system for increasing a character's Skill score in the FF introductory RPG.  Basically, you earn experience points equal to the Skill score of monsters defeated.  When you have ten times your current Skill in XP, you can roll 2d6.  If you score equal to or higher than your Skill, it increases by 1 point.  It also presents a similar system for your Magic score, if you happen to be using the system from Citadel of Chaos.  Luck is included as well.  Steve Jackson chimes in at the end with his own opinions of the system, which is pretty cool.  He seems in favour of it, though he doesn't like the idea of a new character popping in with Skill 12, and instantly being as good as someone who's worked his way up from Skill 7.  He's also against the idea of Luck increasing, as you can't really train to be luckier.

Expanding Fighting Fantasy - Magic in Fighting Fantasy by Tony Smith: This article has some ideas for spell-casting characters.  The spells must be read and learned by the prospective caster, and a Skill roll will be required for the casting, which then drains Stamina points.  This sets up a red flag for me already - Skill is already paramount for warriors, and making it important for spellcasters as well just unbalances the game further in favour of those who rolled a high Skill.  It ends with some sample spells obviously cribbed from Sorcery!  It's rudimentary stuff, and unfortunately Steve doesn't share his opinion here to liven things up a bit.

Fighting Fantasy News: The production schedule is ramping up to a book a month, with the following all in the pipeline: Space Assassin, Talisman of Death, Freeway Fighter, Temple of Terror, Rings of Kether, and Seas of Blood.  The monster collection is mentioned again, this time with the working title of Out of the Pit.  Two jigsaw puzzles have also been released, and Citadel Miniatures are releasing a set of plastic minis.

Fighting Fantasy Feedback: This is a survey for the fans to give their feedback.  I'm going to record my own answers for posterity, drawing only from those books I've covered so far in the blog.  Any other questions I'll answer as though I was at my peak FF-reading age.

1. What is the most exciting Fighting Fantasy Gamebook you have read?  Deathtrap Dungeon

2. Which Gamebook did you find the most difficult to complete?  House of Hell

3. Which Gamebook features the best cover art?  Forest of Doom

4. Which Gamebook featured the best interior black and white illustrations?  Deathtrap Dungeon

5. What is your favourite monster?  Dog-Ape. Or is it Ape-Dog?

6. Most Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks have featured a swords and sorcery theme.  Would you like some of the future books to be based on different themes?
  • Science fiction - No
  • Horror - Yes
  • Espionage - Hell no
  • Pirates - Yes
  • Wild West - All the no ever
  • War - Only if it's war with swords
  • Time-Travel - Yes
  • Samurai - Yes
  • Superheroes - No
  • Any other suggestions - More skeletons

7. Which Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks have you bought? (Please circle)  As a kid, I had bought books, 3, 5, 6, 8 and 10.

8. Which Sorcery! Gamebooks have you bought?  I never even saw these books as a kid.

9. Which magazines do you read? G.M. and Dragon.

10. Did you enjoy the Fighting Fantasy board game 'Market Mayhem' in Warlock 3?  I'll say no, because it didn't really even have rules.

11. Would you like to see more board games in future issues of Warlock? Sure, why not.

12. Would you like to see Fighting Fantasy Role-Playing Game Scenarios in future issues of Warlock? Yes please!

13. Would you like to read fiction in Warlock? Nooooo.

14. Would you like to see a regular cartoon strip in Warlock? Yes, contingent on it actually being funny.

15. How do you rate the current features of Warlock?
  • Out of the Pit - Wizard!
  • Warlock's Quill - Average
  • News - Average
  • Crossword - Orc's Armpit
  • Warlock Profile - Orc's Armpit
  • Cartoons - Orc's Armpit
  • Fighting Fantasy Adventures - Wizard!
  • Tricks and Traps: Orc's Armpit
 Yes, those are the actual ratings in the magazine.

16. Do you think the Fighting Fantasy game system should: a) stay the same b) be made more complex? or c) be simplified?  Stay the same.

17. Do you always play through the Gamebooks strictly according to the dice rolls? Oh yeah.  Sure.

18. Do you play computer games? Yes, on Commodore 64

19. What is your favourite computer game? Bard's Tale 3.

20. How old are you?  Ten.  (I'm actually 39...)

The Dervish Stone: The remainder of the magazine is taken up by this 200 paragraph adventure.  That's for my next entry, however.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

House of Hell: Exploring the House of Drumer

Normally when I finish a gamebook, I write a post that details it's connections to the wider world of Titan,  That's not an option here, with House of Hell being set on modern day Earth (well, 1984 anyway). So instead I'm going to write about the house itself, it's inhabitants, and the clues scattered about as to its origins.  Some of it's drawn directly from the text, and some of it is conjecture, but here are my findings below.

This is the history of the house, as described by the Earl of Drumer himself: "The Earl of Drumer is the last surviving member of his family. His estate stretches for miles around the house. At one time the estate was prosperous, with many tenant farmers cultivating the land and providing a healthy income for his family. But things started to change. His sister died at the age of 32 under mysterious circumstances. She was found dead in the woods with strange markings on her neck. News travelled fast, and the ignorant peasants started muttering about witchcraft and black magic. In their eyes, the house was cursed. Gradually the farmers moved to new pastures, avoiding the estate."  Whatever happened in the house, it's clear that the true evil began around the time of his sister's murder.
  (As an aside, the house is said to be a few miles away from a town called Mingleford.  Much to my disappointment, this town seems to be entirely fictional.)

From those strange markings on the neck, we can surmise that she was killed by a vampire.  There's a painting of a young lady in the entrance hall with the following name-plate: "Lady Margaret of Danvers: 1802-1834".  Note that she died at 32, just as the Earl's sister did.  Elsewhere in the house there's a ring with the following inscription: "To dearest Margaret from George: 1834".  Again, the same date.  The ring is probably a wedding ring or an engagement ring, which would connect the lady in the painting to the ghost wearing a wedding dress who tells you about the Kris knife.  They're both the same person, the sister of the Earl of Drumer.
  As for the ring, you might remember that wearing it can bring you under the control of a vampire who's in the house.  With Lady Margaret probably having been killed by a vampire, and the vampire currently in the house having some power over her wedding ring, there's obviously a connection.  Was this vampire her husband to be?  Or perhaps he killed both the husband and Lady Margaret?  Whatever his story, he's obviously important to the origins of the curse on the house, but we frustratingly learn nothing else about him.  Unless he's the "Count Pravemi" that writes a letter to the Earl?  Pravemi is an obvious anagram, so it seems likely.  The letter doesn't tell us anything else about him, unfortunately.  If the ring was from him, his full name is George Pravemi.
  The other takeaway from this is that Kelnor, the Earl of Drumer, is around 180 years old.

Aside from Kelnor and his sister, there are two other family members shown in the paintings.  One is a lordly gentlemen with the following name-plate: "The Duke of Brewster: 1763-1828". The other is an old woman, and her name-plate reads: "The Duchess of Brewster: 1777-1845". An obvious marital pair, and their ages line up for them to be Kelnor's mother and father.  The Duke is vaguely sinister, using his gaze to direct the hero into touching an electrified doorknob. The Duchess is actually quite helpful, telling the hero to search for the man in grey.  Whatever happened to curse the house, she probably had no involvement.  The Duke, on the other hand, may have been a devil-worshipper himself.  The book doesn't give us enough information to tell.

The Earl, otherwise known as Lord Kelnor, is the son of the Duke and Duchess of Brewster and at the point of the book's publication would be about 180 years old.  He's described as a Black Priest of the Night, and leads a coven of devil worshippers who congregate at his house for ceremonies.  Presumably he bargained with a demon for some sort of prolonged lifespan, but how was he introduced to this lifestyle?  Through his father?  Through the vampire that killed (and was possibly engaged to) his sister?  Again, this is all conjecture, because the book isn't saying.
  As for his coven, they wear white robes when they congregate, as well as masks made from the severed heads of goats.  These masks are presumably worn to represent the goat-like Hell Demon who grants Kelnor his power.  The leader of the rituals (probably Kelnor?) wears a goat-head that's dyed purple.  The coven is secretive, and none of them drive to the meetings.  They all recognise each other's faces.  The Earl has made them all unspecified promises, but one can assume that power and maybe a lifespan like the Earl's would be among them.

We are told repeatedly that "the Master" is holding a ceremony in order to give Brother Isaacson his blessing.  This seemingly involves a number of ritual sacrifices.  The first of these is scheduled to be a young district nurse, who was recently assigned to the area and popped in to visit the house, only to be captured.  The second would be a man in a white gown, a former member of the coven whose conscience could no longer allow him to go along with things. It's hinted at one point that the hero of the book is intended as a sacrifice as well,  In addition to the sacrifices, there are a number of characters being held prisoner who are scheduled for "punishment", whatever that may entail.
  At one point the hero may overhear a coven member asking whether they may be "visited", which no doubt refers to a demonic visitation.  More specifically, it probably refers to the Hellfire Demon at the end of the book.  A number of ritual sacrifices, some punishments, a summoned demon, and Brother Isaacson receiving a blessing of some sort.  I wonder if he's being conferred some sort of power, or maybe a longer lifespan like Lord Kelnor?

The player is directed to the house by the ghost of an old man, whose corpse is later seen hanging by a noose from a tree outside.  The old man is portrayed as evil, but I wonder.  Was he another repentant coven member, who killed himself before seeking out someone who could destroy the Master? Or was his ghost sent out by the house or the Master to lure in another victim?  The headless ghost at one point says that the hero was drawn there by the house itself, so that their ghost might join him and his companions in the netherworld.  This, and the evil manner of the old man, would suggest the more sinister option, but I do kinda like the alternative.
  I'm also not quite sure what the Earl is planning to do with the hero.  He seems to be expecting your arrival, and makes a half-hearted attempt to drug you and leave you tied up in an empty room.  Presumably this would be a precursor to taking you below for the sacrifice, but why not just take you to the cells straight away?  Why only drug some of the food?  Why bother with drugged water when you're already asleep?  What was the plan if you avoid the drugged food and don't drink the water?  It doesn't quite make sense.

The Master can only be killed by the Kris knife in a red room (the red room symbolising the battle taking place in Hell).  There's one obvious question that comes to mind when you find this out: why would he keep the only weapon capable of killing him in his own house?  Why doesn't he just paint all of his interior walls a lovely sky blue?  The Earl is not a stupid man, and would have thought of these things himself, so there's undoubtedly a good reason.
  First, let's look at the Kris knife, and the inscription inside the box where it's found: "A blade fashioned for the glorification and pleasure of the demons of hellfire - our true Masters. To be used only by Initiates. Never to be wielded in the presence of the Masters."  That sounds like a sacrificial dagger to me, an evil item that can nevertheless be used to kill a Hell Demon.
  Now I'm going to go off into some conjecture.  If the dagger and the red room need to be in the house, they're probably a part of whatever keeps the Earl young.  Maybe he did a ritual with the Kris knife to summon a Hell Demon, who granted him immortality.  As a part of that, he needs to keep the knife close by at all times, as well as a red room symbolising hell.  It's a risk, but it's better than dying of old age, innit?

So Lord Kelnor is the Master right?  No, actually, it's Franklins, the butler.  Who is really a Hell Demon in disguise, or manifesting a Hell Demon after the sacrifices have been performed. But Kelnor sure doesn't treat Franklins like anything other than a butler.  Even at the end of the book, he berates the man for acting cowardly. What's the relationship between the two?
  My first thought is that Kelnor is in charge of everything, and Franklins is actually his butler.  A Hell Demon is manifesting through his body by the end of the book, after the sacrifices, but Kelnor doesn't know it yet, for whatever reason.
  My second thought, and the one I rather like, is that the man we are introduced to as Lord Kelnor is just a decoy, another member of the coven.  Franklins is actually Lord Kelnor, the Earl of Drumer, and his body is inhabited by a demon as part of the evil pact he made.  Using a decoy makes sense: an Earl who's been alive for 180 years is going to draw some attention, but nobody pays much attention to a butler.

Buggered if I know.  She's an old woman who recently died, and she seems to know a lot about the house.  At first I thought she might be the Duchess of Brewster, but she's more sinister than the painting was.  Then I thought she might be another sister of Kelnor, or perhaps even his wife or daughter.  But why would she have grown old then?  Unless the Earl can't actually grant immortality to anyone else?  I thought she might be a servant, but her bedroom is probably too opulent for that.  Whoever she is, she's trusted enough that she knew the password to the Earl's secret room.  She's an unsolved mystery.

That's about all I was able to tease out of the book, but it certainly brought some of the book's little touches to light for me.  I'd never made the Pravemi/Vampire connection before.  As I expected, there are no concrete answers to be had, and I wouldn't want them in a book like this.  Mystery and horror go hand in hand, after all.  The House of Hell remains a mystery, and that's the way I like it.

Next: I take a deep dive into Warlock magazine issue #4.

Friday, February 23, 2018

House of Hell: Final Thoughts

In playing through this book, I've perhaps said a little too often that I was getting sick of it.  It's true, after playing the magazine version and then the book version, I'm keen to move on to something else.  The blog has been stuck on House of Hell related material since April of last year, after all.  None of that should be taken as a slight on the book's quality, though, because House of Hell is staggeringly good.

This is one that I owned as a child, and it left a firm impression on my psyche.  I had recurring nightmares about goat-headed cultists well into my teenage years, and they still pop up in my dreams on occasion.  House of Hell scared me in a way that no other gamebook ever has, but it was so good that I kept going back to it.  Sometimes I thought that if I beat it, the nightmares would go away.  I didn't beat it for a long, long time.

It's hard to know where to begin when trying to say what's so good about House of Hell, because the temptation is there just to say "all of it" and move on.  But I'll start with the writing.  Steve Jackson is far from the best prose stylist, and he's often prone to excitable outbursts complete with italics and exclamation points.  It works very well here, though, where Jackson can revel in all of the macabre details.  The atmosphere is thick with horror, perhaps a little too thick at times: it rarely takes the subtle approach.  That's fine though.  This is a book where zombies hide behind curtains, headless ghosts fly through the walls, and corpses tumble out of cupboards on top of you.  It hits every cliche, but hits them with gusto.

Even better than the writing is the design.  A lot of FF adventures are designed like a linear path, with branches that fork off and eventually converge again.  House of Hell is far more complex.  It's very circuitous, and you can enter different areas from a number of different directions and paths.  It can get a little clumsy at times, as the book ushers you past doors you might actually want to explore, but on the whole it work very well, and goes a long way to making the house feel like it's honeycombed with secret doors and passageways.  It also introduces a level of complexity to the puzzles that is well above the books prior.  Finding the secret door and the password to get the Kris Knife is hard, and Jackson has put in a number of tricks to catch the reader unwares.  It's not a book that you can finish on your first go: it takes a lot of tries, and a slow unravelling of the path to victory.

If I have one criticism of the book, it's the use of the Fear statistic.  I have no problem with having a Fear score that increases as you explore, and kills you once it gets to a certain point, but there are some ridiculous deaths that can result.  Dying because you heard a sinister voice, or saw some curtains open, is more comedic that horrifying.  And then there's the fact that you can't win with a score of 7 or 8.  It's a good idea, but it's not perfectly executed.

I haven't mentioned the art, but I talked a bit about Tim Sell's work when I covered the magazine version.  It's a strange blend of cartoony and horrific, but it works.

On the whole, House of Hell is a stone-cold classic.  It might be the best book in the series to this point, and it's absolutely the best one in the series that's not set on Titan.  It will be interesting to see if it unseats Citadel of Chaos from the top spot on my STAMINA ratings.


With only six attempts at this book, I missed a lot.  Most of the rooms that I missed were in the cellars.  There's a torture chamber with a fun minigame where you have to quickly write down words relating to the house while you're being stretched on the rack, in order to prove that you're a friend of the Master.  There's also a prison cell, where a man in grey lays out pretty much everything you need to do to beat the game.  A lot of the rooms I didn't find were in the preview version, in vastly different locations.  Part of the fun of this book is that, no matter how many times you go through it, there's always something new to discover.


I couldn't find any errors.  The only item I found that serves no purpose at all is an antique book of medieval portraits, which you can take from the library.


This book has 16 instant death paragraphs.  This seems a bit low, but there are quite a few of them that you can reach from multiple directions.  My favourite is still the one where you try to attack forty cultists, and Steve Jackson tells you straight up that you deserved to die.  But I used that one for the magazine version, so here's a solid back-up.


Because there are so many comical ways of dying, I'm listing them all below.  (Note that the first seven or so on the list happen early in the adventure, and aren't likely to kill you.)  Behold, the things that can scare you to death inside the House of Drumer:

  • Listening to a talking painting
  • Seeing the eyes move on a portrait
  • Getting nervous after hesitating to ask the earl about his telephone
  • Waiting in your bedroom
  • Seeing the ghost of a bride
  • Standing close to an invisible creature
  • Finding some corpses in a cupboard
  • Being punched by a zombie who is hiding behind a curtain
  • Discovering that a door has locked behind you
  • Seeing a decapitated ghost carrying its severed head
  • Hearing that ghost tell you you'll be trapped in the house forever
  • Seeing some curtains open and close
  • Trying to sit on a bed that moves from under you
  • Having a chair thrown at you by a poltergeist
  • Hearing a polite, sinister voice
  • Having said voice mock you for trying to escape through a locked door
  • Encountering a ghoul
  • Having a corpse fall out of a closet on top of you
  • Being ambushed by a white-haired man
  • Finding a butchered goat in a crate
  • Being swarmed by bats
  • Seeing an old man hanging from a tree by a noose
  • Being smothered by animated bedsheets
  • Seeing a sheet pulled up by a rope
  • Being attacked by cupboard-dwelling skeletons
  • Seeing a dead lady open her eyes
  • Touching a dead old lady
  • Opening the front door to see a goat-headed cultist
  • Seeing writing mysteriously appear on a piece of paper
  • Seeing the writhing souls trapped in the eye on the front of an evil book
  • Falling down a trap door
  • Looking in a mirror with no reflection
  • Hearing some cultists discuss a ritual sacrifice
  • Being attacked by a knife-wielding cultist
  • Witnessing the HELL DEMON


Story and Setting: The story-telling in this book is more sophisticated than anything seen in the series before, with events progressing in certain areas depending on how far you've made it through the adventure.  It all runs on a cliched haunted house/Satanic cult plot, but the directness with which it tackles that stuff is frankly shocking for a children's book.  And then there's the house of Drumer, with its circuitous paths and secret passages.  It's all good stuff, despite a few bits here and there where the story doesn't quite make sense.  Rating: 6 out of 7.

Toughness: This book is very hard, but the majority of that difficulty comes from puzzles, finding the right password and the clues that will get you to the Kris Knife.  I'd give this one a perfect score if it was possible to beat the book with a minimum Fear score, but as it is I have to mark it down slightly.  Rating: 6 out of 7.

Aesthetics: House of Hell drips with atmosphere, despite a few comical moments of excitable prose from Steve Jackson.  (Someone has brought you a bedtime drink!)  The art is cartoony yet horrifying, in a weird blend that somehow works in its favour.  And it's got a great cover by Ian Miller.  Rating: 6 out of 7.

Mechanics: The Fighting Fantasy system is serviceable as usual, and for the most part it's well-used.  The Fear score doesn't quite work, though, resulting in some very unsatisfying deaths, and stopping anyone with a score less than 9 from winning.  I'm also not the biggest fan of the 50/50 choice at the end when fighting the Earl of Drumer and Franklins.  Are there any clues that tell you which is the correct one to attack?  That said, I'm going to bump this one up a little for the loads of little design tricks it has. Rating: 5 out of 7.

Innovation and Influence: The Fear score is new, and the horror genre is a first for Fighting Fantasy.  Most of the innovation this book shows is in its design, though, with the intertwining pathways and the tricks used to disguise the path to success.  Ultimately, those are the things that will carry forward from House of Hell into the rest of the series.  Rating: 5 out of 7.

NPCs and Monsters: There are a sizable number of monsters in this book, many of them horror staples: skeletons, zombies, ghosts, a ghoul, a vampire etc.  Where the book excels, though is with its human characters and enemies.  I think a large part of the horror of House of Hell is that your antagonists are just people.  Yes, they're wearing freaky goat masks, but underneath they're regular folks, characters more so than monsters.  The book is full of people, some of them on your side but most of them definitely not, and they all have their own little stories.  Some of them blend together (there are a few too many former cultists who've been locked up by the Master), but on the whole the book has distinctive characters and memorable encounters.  Rating: 6 out of 7.

Amusement: I know I said I was sick of this book, but there's a very short list of gamebooks that I could enjoy playing for as long as I did this one.  It's great, and the multitude of pathways through it (albeit only one of which will take you to victory) means that there's always something new to find.  It's one of the all-time greats.  Rating: 7 out of 7.

House of Hell gets the bonus point for being super-rad and scarring me mentally.  The above scores total 42, which doubled gives a final STAMINA Rating of 84.  That puts it second on the list, just above The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and six points below The Citadel of Chaos.  Sometimes I think Citadel has too high a score, but then I take a look and I can't see which categories I'd mark down.  It's going to stay at the top at least until we hit Creature of Havoc, I'd say.

It feels a bit like I've reached the end of an era with House of Hell.  Before this, the series was, with one exception, solely populated by the works of Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone.  From this point on, the work of those two men gets a little more scarce, and we start getting a greater variety of authors.  I like the variety, but for me there's something special about those first ten books, the first era of FF.  House of Hell is an outstanding capstone on that era.

NEXT:  I'm going to look through all the backstory peppered throughout this book and try and piece it together.  After that, it's on to Warlock #4 and Talisman of Death.