Saturday, September 4, 2021

The Rings of Kether - Final Thoughts

For many years I've had it in my head that the Fighting Fantasy series goes a little off the rails in the teens.  The first ten books are pretty unassailable: mostly set in Allansia (albeit the majority of them retroactively), mostly written by Ian and Steve, and mostly good to excellent (we'll just agree to forget about Starship Traveller).  Then from books 10 to 20, the line gets really unfocused.  Only three of them are written by Steve and Ian, and only two are set in Allansia (with two more technically in the same world but thematically far away from the standard FF tone).  We've got a bunch of different flavours of sci-fi, we've got samurais, we've got super-heroes...  It's an eclectic mix, but as a kid I never clicked with a bunch of these books.  They were cool I guess, but I just wanted more Warlocks of Firetop Mountain and Citadels of Chaos.

Of the first twenty books, The Rings of Kether is the only one I never read as a kid.  The others I owned myself, borrowed from friends, or found at the library.  I'm pretty sure one of my friends owned The Rings of Kether, but I never bothered to borrow it.  The cover was kind of boring, there weren't any cool monsters in the illustrations, and the whole "smashing a drug ring" set-up didn't grab me.  I eventually read it when I started re-collecting the series in my early 20s, but it didn't make much of an impression on me.  It's not that hard, and I was happy to breeze through it on my way to Seas of Blood.

I felt much the same when I played through it for the blog.  The premise is, admittedly, pretty edgy for a kid's book these days.  The "war against drugs" was very much in the zeitgeist when this was published, so it didn't feel out of place at the time, but I'd be surprised to see this one getting republished by Scholastic.  Having it structured as an investigation is novel, but also makes it feel a little disjointed.  And because it's not that hard to beat, it's over so quickly that it barely leaves an impression.  I was expecting I'd end up trashing it fairly thoroughly.

On reading through all of the sections systematically, I found a lot more to like.  For one thing, it's a lot less disjointed than it seems: there are plenty of connections between various parts of the plot and setting, but you need to go through the book numerous times to catch them all.  And the structure really is different than any FF that's gone before it, and quite intricate.  Andrew Chapman has said in interviews that he put a lot of planning into this one, and it shows.  Of all the FFs I've played so far, this book was by far the most difficult to map out.  There are a lot of paths to victory, and I give Chapman major kudos for managing to link it all together without any continuity errors or structural failures.  

Sadly, for all of its neat structural innovations, it's terribly light on the things that make an FF enjoyable.  Its open structure, with almost no walking dead scenarios, make it one of the easiest books in the series to complete.  The illustrations are competent but unexciting.  The villains aren't fleshed out all that much (except for Zera Gross, who is perhaps a little too fleshed out...).  The setting is kind of a bland hodge-podge of Asimov, Heinlein and mid-20th century classic sci-fi in general.  The major exception to this is the section with the monks on asteroid C230; their serpentine space god is memorably weird, but it's also easy to miss and completely disconnected from everything else in the book.  Overall The Rings of Kether is well-designed, well-structured, and perhaps technically more competent than a bunch of the books that came before it, but it's just lacking the spark that made those books unforgettable.


There are a lot of avenues of investigation in this book, and it's impossible to go through them all in the few attempts I had.  Chief among those would be the meeting with Clive Torus and his wife, as well as a bunch of confrontations with various guards and robots, as well as an earlier meeting with Blaster Babbet.  Overall I feel like I managed to avoid most of the combat encounters in the book.

There's also a second victory, which comes when you use a key to activate the nuclear reactor on Blaster Babbet's asteroid, thus blowing up the entire operations.  It's honestly a more satisfying conclusion than defeating Babbet, who has no character whatsoever, but because it's not paragraph 400 I'd class it as an incomplete victory.


As far as I can tell, there weren't any errors in the version of this book that I played, aside from the whole weirdness with the spy ray being taken away from you without it ever being mentioned that you had one.  I see on the Titannica wiki that there were bad links in some earlier printings, but they must have been corrected quickly.  I played a zigzag edition (maybe a fourth printing?) that didn't have them.

There are certainly red herring clues in the book, most notably those pointing towards suspicious activity on the moon, and asteroid C230.  But even those provide clues that point you back in the right direction, so I don't really count them.

As for red herring items, there aren't any.  This might be the first FF where your inventory barely matters at all; the only items to be found are a few weapons, some extra Pep Pills and the key that blows up the asteroid.


There are twenty instant death/failure sections in this book. My initial impression was that none of them were particularly interesting, but on reading them back I'm impressed by the variety; they range from simple failure to find the right clues, to dying in a fiery car crash, to spinning off endlessly into space, and even being eaten by a weird space god with a woman's face.  You can even be crushed underneath an overweight woman, which has to be an FF first.  But for sheer hilarious banality, it has to be the following:

Killed by a paperweight thrown by a scared office worker.  What a way to go.


Story & Setting: The premise is unique for FF, and there's more going on story-wise than a couple of play-throughs would indicate.  The structure is impressively done, and might have snagged a high rating, but despite some flashes of humour (and the way every character talks like they came out of a b-grade gangster movie) the setting is ultimately forgettable.  Rating: 4 out of 7.

(Because I couldn't fit it in organically anywhere else, I'll squeeze the question in here: what exactly are the "Rings of Kether"?  The planet hasn't got any rings like Saturn does.  There's a ring of asteroids, but those are usually referred to as belts, and would belong to the system of Aleph Cygni more so than the planet of Kether.  Maybe it's a reference to the drug rings you're trying to smash. I feel like I've had a revelation here, but maybe it's obvious and I've been a dummy for wondering about this for 20 years.)

Toughness: It's refreshing to play an FF where the path to victory doesn't require difficult fights and a backpack full of weird trinkets, but for me the difficulty was always one of the selling points of the series.  Finishing a book in just a few tries was always deflating (and was always my biggest gripe about Lone Wolf), and I still feel that way a little bit.  Books that are too hard get a low rating in this category, but so do books that are too easy, and The Rings of Kether definitely falls into that category.  Rating: 3 out of 4.

Aesthetics: I don't know what it is about the sci-fi books, but they just never do well in this category.  The writing is less evocative, and the illustrations are invariably a series of robots, vehicles, and guys with guns.  It's all done well enough here, but there's not a lot to get excited about.  (And just who is the guy on the cover?  He doesn't look at all like 'Blaster' Babbet, and there aren't any other obvious candidates.)  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Mechanics: Much like Freeway Fighter, this book has three different kinds of combat: melee, guns, and vehicles.  In this case its spaceships rather than cars, but it's all executed well and balanced so that most characters could get through.  Space battles are deadly, and a low roll on your Shields score is probably a death sentence, but there's only one of these fights you absolutely have to do.  The rules are solid here.  Rating: 5 out of 7.

Innovation & Influence: At first glance it doesn't feel like this book is doing anything new, but it's put together like no other FF before it.  In terms of complexity, it's probably only beaten by Steve Jackson's more intricate efforts, such as House of Hell and the later Sorcery! books.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

NPCs & Monsters: This is where the book maybe falls down the hardest.  It's full of NPCs, from drug runners to corrupt officials, but none of them stand out all that much.  The main villain, Blaster Babbet, is a total nonentity.  Zera Gross is memorable, but not in a positive way.  There are some nondescript robots and a few weird aliens, but little of note.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Amusement: Despite the interesting things I found while dissecting the book, I didn't enjoy playing it all that much.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 0.

The above scores total 22, which doubled gives this book a STAMINA Rating of 44.  That puts it equal with Temple of Terror, which I wasn't expecting.  It makes sense though: Rings of Kether isn't as enjoyable, but it's got more going on under the hood.

NEXT: Maybe I'll take a look at The Tasks of Tantalon, but so far I haven't bothered to dig it out of whatever box it's hiding in.  If I don't find it, I'll move along to yet another Andrew Chapman joint, Seas of Blood.

Friday, August 27, 2021

The Rings of Kether - Attempt 3

It's been a few weeks since my last post, but life has a way of intervening from time to time.  I'm not sure what life; I'm literally confined to my house for 22 out of 24 hours a day.  I can't even really say what I've been doing during that time, aside from avoiding the effort of updating my blogs.  Welcome to the existential void of 2021, I guess.

Well, I'm back and it's time for a void of a different kind: the unending void of space!  It's time for another crack at The Rings of Kether, in which I've been tasked with smashing a drug ring on the titular planet.  (Wouldn't be my first instinct, but I doubt this book's going to give me the option of petitioning to legalise satophil-d.  I hear it's great for pain relief.)

For this attempt I rolled a Skill of 12, Stamina of 16, Luck of 10, Shields of 3, and Weapons Strength of 9.  Pretty good stats, but I was a little worried about my Shields score (having died because of such a low score in my first attempt).

After dropping out of hyperspace into the Aleph Cygni system, I decided to check out the moonbase called Rispin's End.  After hiring a scooter for 500 kopecks, I spent the day investigating.  There were no signs of drug manufacturing to be found, so I took off and headed for the planet of Kether.  (On my second attempt I had explored the moon and been the target of an assassination attempt.  This time, coming here before making my presence known on Kether, my stay here was uneventful.  I feel pretty safe in saying that this is a dead end.)

After landing and being harassed by customs, I decided to hang around a local bar for information.  I was approached by a deranged starship captain, whose rambling indicated that a fat woman playing cards nearby was up to some shady business.  I tried to join her game, and after first telling me to get lost she eventually relented and dealt me in.  Her name was Zera Gross, and she was in the import/export business.  "More exporting than importing, I'd wager, the nature of the drug business being what it is! Ha, ha!" I said.  (This is the kind of sly subtlety they teach you in this galaxy's secret agent business, I suppose.)  As a response, Zera had her men beat the ever-loving shit out of me.  (Seriously, this beating made me lose 2 Stamina points permanently.  I don't think I've ever seen permanent Stamina loss in a Fighting Fantasy, most of which involve being run through with swords, shot with crossbows, engulfed in fire, and all sorts of other nasty stuff.  That is some beating.)

After waking up, I decided that a quiet day at the library might be more my speed.  I started by looking at some statistics.  The stats on agriculture and manufacturing didn't yield anything, but the transport stats showed some anomalies.  I decided to head for the State Computer File Centre to get a first-hand look at those statistics.  Unfortunately, when I got there I discovered that only those files more than 100 years old were available to the public.

I decided to return at night and try to break in.  (I'd tried to bribe my way in here on my last attempt, and gotten arrested for my trouble.)  The place was surrounded by razor wire, but I was able to climb up a drainpipe onto the roof and drop in through a skylight.  (I had to Test my Luck here, which I did successfully (reducing my score to 9).  I'm not sure what the consequences of failure were.)  Many of the more recent files on air traffic records were missing, so I decided to leave and find the Chief of Air-Traffic Control.

After locating him at the main heliport, I decided to follow him home from work and confront him. After a few hours of waiting in the carpark, I followed him in a hired ground car.  When I cheerfully introduced myself as a narcotics officer (there's that subtle spycraft once again) he became stricken with terror.  He was apparently covering up flights from "the islands", as well as flights to "the asteroids".  He wasn't able to tell me more than that, so I headed back to the spaceport to see if anyone there could enlighten me.

From a shuttle pilot I learned that something odd was going on at asteroid C230, so I decided to head up there and check it out.  The asteroid was one of thousands that made up the system's asteroid belt.  Its only signs of habitation were a dock and a few antennae.  There was also an emergency escape hatch and an air-conditioning vent.  I decided to enter through the hatch.

It opened into an airlock, and then a rough-hewn corridor that eventually led to a spherical room.  In a niche above me I found a small plaque with the following inscription:

Hidden is he,
Mighty is he,
His time returns,
Hold, wait, be still.

Continuing down the corridor, I came to a junction. I could hear voices down one of the tunnels, so I went the other way and came to a room with a low pedestal and a burning flame.  I entered, and the flame roared higher, forming into a serpent with a woman's face.  Legs and wings grew from its body as it began to laugh.  In a panic, I decided to recite the prayer to Thuvald, and the weird creature replied:

"Misled you have been,
In the wrong place, you are
With the Customs officials you should be!"

The creature then told me to begone, and I was hurled from the room by a mystical force.  Not wanting to trust any prophecy that referenced customs officials, I decided to ignore it and keep exploring the asteroid. Soon I came to a door, over which was inscribed GRAND KEEPER.  Inside, an old man in black robes was sitting in a high-backed chair.  He asked me to sit with him, and I obliged. He explained that the asteroid was a monastery, and that I should return to Kether and visit the customs officials at the spaceport.  He waved his hand, and I was immediately transported back to my spaceship.  Taking the hint, I returned to Kether.

What kind of monk wears a proper belt?

At the customs office, I found the office of the Head Customs Officer - one Zac Kalensus - and kicked his door open with my pistol drawn.  "OK Zac baby, start talking about this little drug racket you're in on or I'll have to start pumping with my trigger finger!"  (Holy shit, that dialogue.  Incredible stuff.)  He stuttered something about transmissions from a satellite in orbit, but I wasn't able to get anything else out of him (because I failed a Luck test, reducing my score to 8).

With no other leads, I flew into orbit to look for the satellite and found it after a few days.  Rather than blow it up, I decided to put on my pressure-suit and take a space-walk to look at it.

Looking for Satellites.

What followed was a mini-game, where I had a limited supply of fuel with which to jet over to the satellite.  I had four units of fuel, and every choice used up one of those units; if I ran out I'd be sent spiraling off endlessly into space.  Luckily for me this mini-game relied entirely on rolls against my Skill.  With a Skill of 12 it was almost impossible for me to fail, and I made it over to the satellite using just two units of fuel.  I was able to learn that the satellite was transmitting from an unknown asteroid to the Isosceles Tower in Kether, and that all of those transmissions concerned shipments of the drug satophil-d.

Returning to Kether, I hired a helijet and landed on top of the tower.  On the 50th floor I found an import/export office run by Zera Gross.  The office was unlocked, and after I entered I soon came to a junction.  Heading left, I came to an open plan office that looked to have been recently stripped and deserted. Searching through the office, I was able (due to a successful roll under my Skill) to spot a vidilink file with coordinates to an island.  The message was signed by Zera Gross and someone called Blaster Babbet.

I flew out to the island, where I found a launch pad for shuttles, a helipad, and some ramps.  I climbed into an anti-grav dray and rammed it through a freight door at the end of a ramp, killing half a dozen guards.  In a warehouse I found crates of satophil-d, and a dead body with some Pep Pills (which I took).  Continuing down a corridor into another room, I was confronted by an android, but I was able to bypass it by successfully answering its riddle.  (I covered this riddle in my first attempt if you're interested.)

The passage beyond led to the office of Zera Gross, who was busy dictating to a robot secretary.  Upon seeing me she immediately went for her blaster, but I dove on her first to force her to fight me hand-to-hand.  (Melee combat is much easier to get through without losing Stamina than blaster combat.)  Zera (Skill 8, Stamina 11) proved to be a surprisingly strong foe, and was able to injure me twice despite my high skill (reducing my Stamina to 10).  While she lay "whale-like, immobile and exhausted", I slapped her in the face for information; all I was able to get from here was a dazed mumbling of "up then left".

In a nearby command room I found the coordinates of the asteroid where the drugs were being manufactured.  I flew back out to the asteroid belt, only to discover that it was surrounded by a deadly minefield.  Rather than blast my way through, I decided to be cautious (mostly because blowing them up had contributed to my death on my first attempt).  I made it through safely (with a successful roll under my Skill), but I still had to deal with the Asteroid Defences (Weapons Strength 9, Shields 6), a battery of phasers.

I opened the fight by unloading both of my Smart Missiles (which reduced their Shields to 2), then blew through them with my ship's own phasers, sustaining moderate damage (my Shields were reduced to 1).  I docked at an emergency airlock on the asteroid and made my way inside.

I made my way down a long zero-gravity tunnel, until I reached an airtight security door in one of the walls.  Inside was a room full of pressure-suits and emergency air-tents, but nothing of use.  Continuing down the tunnel, I soon found my way blocked by a strange device, constructed of four cubes in the shape of an X.  The cube sparked with electricity as it approached.

4d6 damage coming my way.

I took a flying dropkick at the device (because when a gamebook presents you with an unusual option, you should always take it).  I hit it dead on (due to a successful roll under my Skill) and the device smashed to pieces against a wall.

I came to a crossroads with three options, and decided to go straight ahead. The corridor led to a large cavern, filled with bulbous, tentacled creatures that had no eyes.  Above them hung three metallic spheres, each with a loop-shaped handle.

What is this, Total Wipeout?

There was no way I was going to wend my way through a bunch of tentacles, so I decided to risk jumping from sphere to sphere.  I was able to make all three jumps safely, and exit the cavern on the other side.  (This required three successful rolls under my Skill, so it's probably not the best option unless you're playing with a high-Skill character like mine.)

I found myself in a large chemical laboratory for making satophil-d, and spent some time smashing things up.  There was a door and a corridor leading onwards, and I chose the door.

Oh look, a room.

In front of me was a wide pit spanned by a narrow bridge with no handrail. Guarding the bridge was a three-legged alien, with an electric bracer in each of its three hands.  It ordered me to halt before firing several bolts of electrons at me.

You could say I Vanque-ished him.

I traded shots with the Arcturian Vanque (Skill 7, Stamina 10).  It hit me once (dropping my Stamina to 6) before I was able to kill it.  I ate a Pep Pill after the battle to restore my Strength (bringing my Stamina back up to 12).

At a junction I turned right, which led to the control room for the asteroid's nuclear reactor. There were no controls except for a keyhole.  I had no key, so I had to go back and take the other path.  This led to a tiny room with doors on every surface.  Each door had a black button in the centre.  Presented with six buttons to press, I tried the one in front of me and received an electric shock (reducing my Stamina to 11).  I tried the door behind me, and was shocked again (reducing my Stamina to 10).  At that point, I thought of what Zera Gross had told me while I was slapping her in the face: "up then left".  Pressing the button above me opened the door into an identical room.  Pressing the button to the left opened the door in that room, leading into a sumptuous living area.  (I could see those rooms being frustrating and potentially deadly if you didn't get the clue from Zera.  I had enough Pep Pills that getting through by trial and error wouldn't have been a problem, but I saved myself some pain by remembering that hint.)

The room was decorated with carpet and modern furniture, with a trendy folding screen near the door. In the wall opposite was a corridor, guarded by two identical figures that I assumed to be 'Blaster' Babbet.  They each had a blaster aimed at me, and after greeting me in unison they prepared to open fire.

Babbet season!

Rather than try to guess which of them was real, I "thought of an alternative course of action" by jumping through the folding screen.  The real Babbet was behind the screen, and the two in the corridor were illusions.  I tackled him, and we engaged in hand-to-hand combat.

'Blaster' Babbet (Skill 10, Stamina 8) was tough, and the battle was a close one (he reduced me to 4 Stamina).  But with my superior skill I was able to capture him, and wipe out the leadership of Kether's whole drug operation.  My mission was a complete success!

I'd considered retracing the steps of my first attempt to get this book over and done with, but I couldn't resist the temptation of checking out various different things.  The pointless detour to asteroid C230 was probably my biggest deviation, and maybe the most interesting; I look forward to seeing what else is there when I read through the whole book.  This one ended up not being too difficult, although I may very well have failed without such a high Skill.  As it was I only scraped through on 4 Stamina, so maybe it's harder than it seems.

NEXT: I'll do one wrap-up/review post, and then it's on to something a little unusual: Steve Jackson's Tasks of Tantalon.  Unfortunately all of my books are currently boxed up after a move, so I may have some trouble finding it.  If I can't, then I'll be moving ahead with the next book in the series, the piratical Seas of Blood.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

The Rings of Kether - Attempt 2

I feel like I did pretty well on my first attempt at The Rings of Kether; at the very least, I almost made it to what I assume was the stronghold of the head bad guy.  I went into my second attempt with a great deal of confidence; if I nearly won last time, surely I stood a good chance of victory this time around.

For my second attempt I rolled a Skill of 12, Stamina of 18, and a Luck of 9.  For my ship I rolled a Weapons Strength of 9 and Shields of 4.  Last time a low Shields score had done me in, but I felt a lot better about my roll for this attempt.

I began my mission to bust the drug rings of the Alpha Cygni system by entering the orbit of the planet Kether.  I began my investigation by checking out the system's asteroid belt (because I already knew that the bad guy's base was there from my last play-through).  Before I could find anything I was attacked by a pair of space vessels: Interceptors (Weapon Strength 5, Shield 3; and Weapons Strength 5, Shield 2).  It was a long, drawn-out dogfight, and the Interceptors shot me twice before I could destroy them (reducing my Shields to 2).  Unfortunately, there was no way for me to find anything among the thousands of asteroids without years of searching.  I would need to find the proper coordinates before I could come back.

(As an aside, the ship-to-ship combat in this game yields very different results to regular FF combat. In regular FF combat, having a higher Skill than your opponent gives you a pretty good chance of getting through unscathed, because only one combatant can score a hit in any round.  With this style of ship-to-ship combat, having a high Weapons Strength in no way prevents other ships from hitting you, and dealing just 1 point of damage per hit means that the battles are bound to be drawn out.  It's almost guaranteed that you're going to lose some Shields if you get into a fight, and I'm not sure that there's any way in the book to replenish your Shields.)

After landing at the spaceport on Kether and being bullied by customs, I decided to hang around the port and ask some questions.  I learned that all cargo comes through the spaceport, but there was no other useful information to be had.  I decided to head to the local authorities and declare my presence as a Federal Investigator.

After asking for one of the senior investigators, a bored man at reception led me to the office of a Mr. Samuel.  (Normally I'd have been taken to see Mr. Perry, but he was apparently out at the pub.  Being taken to Samuel was the result of rolling a die and getting an even number; presumably if I'd rolled odd I would have seen Perry.)  Samuel became immediately alarmed when I told him who I was.  He slipped me a note saying that he couldn't talk, but would meet me later at a restaurant called Viqueque.

I decided to trust Samuel, and went to meet him at the restaurant.  He showed up in disguise, and told me that the local police were rife with corruption.  It was his suspicion that the drugs were being brought in via the city's helipads.  He also told me of his underworld connection, an unemployed starship navigator.

Meeting with Mr. Samuel

I decided to meet the navigator at a local bar.  The man was paranoid, but among his ramblings I picked out two things: there was something odd going on at the moon (also known as Rispin's End), and a fat woman playing cards in the bar was mixed up in it.

Rather than trail the woman, I went back to my ship and immediately took off to investigate the moon.  The only facility on the moon was a small dome town for tourists and scientists.  Before landing I decided to fly around the moon looking for suspicious activity, and before too long I was attacked by two Robot Fighters (both with Weapon Strength 7 and Shields 1).  I blew the first one up with a smart missile, but the second hit me before I could destroy it (reducing my Shields to 1).  I couldn't find anything else on the moon, so I landed at the dome town.

To explore the town I hired a rocket scooter for a few days (this cost me 500 kopecks, leaving me with 4,500).  Someone left a note in my helmet telling me to leave Alpha Cygni if I wanted to live, but I ignored it and continued my investigations.  I didn't turn anything up, but a few days later an assassin took a shot at me.  I fled the scene, but not before getting a good look at my would-be-killer, and I was able to identify him by going to the starport and looking through the recent arrivals.  He was a Mr. B. Smith, age 34, a librarian working for the City Central Library.  Rather than stay on Rispin's End, I decided to return to Kether and check out the library.

At the library I looked through some transport statistics, and noticed that there were some discrepancies.  I headed for the State Computer File Centre for some more information, but was disappointed to find that they only allowed perusal of files more than 100 years old.  I tried to bribe the clerk, opting for a conservative bribe of 1,000 kopecks.  Rather than accept the bribe, the clerk pressed an alarm, and I was swarmed by security and arrested.  The police stripped me of my identification, and my pleas of being an official investigator fell on deaf ears.  Soon I was thrown in prison, and my adventure was over.


Well, I fell into the trap of taking a different path so that my second attempt would be more interesting.  I could easily have followed the same choices I made last time, and I would have done much better.  With a higher Shields score, I very well may have won the whole thing.  Instead I got curious, explored a lot of dead ends, and fell afoul of the crooked authorities.  My initial instincts for this book - to keep a low profile - were much more effective.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Rings of Kether - Attempt 1

Cover by Terry Oakes

Corruption is rife in the Aleph Cygni system and the flow of the illicit narcotic Satophil-d from the spaceports of the planet Kether has grown to enormous proportions.  Several attempts have been made to crack the notorious drug rings of Kether, with no success.  Now the Galactic Federation has entrusted YOU with this dangerous undercover mission in this wild and lawless place. But will YOU succeed?

The Rings of Kether is the 15th book in the Fighting Fantasy series, written by Andrew Chapman and illustrated by Nik Spender.  I wasn't particularly fond of Chapman's previous effort, Space Assassin, but according to interviews he put a lot more effort into Kether.  I guess we'll see if that effort made any difference, but the book has an uphill battle from the start, as I've never loved the sci-fi entries in the series.

I've only read this book once, about 20 years ago, and I barely remember any of that play-through.  The podcast Campaign on Dice covered it about a year ago, which somewhat jogged my memory, so I'm not going in completely blind.  (As an aside, Campaign on Dice is excellent, and very funny.  It's well worth a listen, as long as you don't mind the books being incessantly ridiculed.  Their coverage of The Rings of Kether is especially good, but word of warning: you should probably listen to it with headphones, it's definitely not family-friendly.)

As noted above, the hero of this book is an undercover investigator, being sent to the planet of Kether to sort out a drug trafficking ring.  The authorities on Kether are supposed to deal with this sort of thing themselves, so there's some suspicion that the authorities might be in on the whole operation.  As such, the hero has been sent in under the guise of a travelling salesman specialising in exotic fruit, spices and luxuries.

The sci-fi books almost always have new rules, and Kether is no exception.  Aside from the usual Skill, Stamina and Luck, you need to roll stats for your spaceship: Weapons Strength and Shields.  Weapons Strength is rolled like Skill (1d6 + 6) and Shields are a simple d6 roll.  Your ship also has two smart missiles, which can be used to instantly blow up enemy ships.  Instead of provisions you have 4 Pep Pills, which restore 6 Stamina at a time.  You've also been provided with money in the form of 5,000 Kopecks, the standard intergalactic currency.

Melee combat works the same as regular FF, but there are new rules for Blaster Combat and Ship-to-Ship Combat.  In Blaster Combat, both combatants trade fire, each taking turns to roll against their Skill with 2d6.  A result under their Skill indicates a hit, which deals 4 damage.  Ship-to-Ship Combat is similar, with the combatants rolling against their Weapon Strength.  A ship that is hit loses 1 point from their Shields, and if they are hit when Shields are at 0 they are destroyed.  (I should note that the use of Luck in combat isn't anywhere in the rules.  There's also nothing to say that Skill and Luck scores can't go above their initial level, although it's possible that may never come up.)

For my first attempt I rolled a 10 for Weapon Strength, a 2 for Shields, a 7 for Skill, a 20 for Stamina, and a 10 for Luck.  I couldn't remember how difficult this book was stats-wise, but I was already nervous about my Shields score, and figured I'd be relying on smart missiles to get through any space battles.

The adventure began as I dropped out of hyperspace, into the Aleph Cygni system: a yellow star with one orbiting planet.  I was told by my cosmo-nav that Kether was mostly ocean, with a few scattered islands and one large continent.  Orbiting Kether was the moon known as Rispin's End, and there was also a vast asteroid belt in the system.  Figuring that investigation of the moon and the asteroids would look suspicious, I decided to land at Kether's starport.

As soon as I landed, I was promptly boarded by customs officers who said they were looking for contraband.  Not drugs as I suspected, but technology; they stripped me of my spy ray before allowing me to disembark.  (This whole spy ray thing is a bit odd.  It's not mentioned at all before these officers take it from you.  What is it?  I thought maybe it was my blaster, and that I now had no weapon, but there's nothing to indicate that that's the case.  I'm going to ignore this unless it specifically comes up later.)

Rather than ask questions at the spaceport or go to the local authorities for help, I decided to keep a low profile by going to a local shady canteen.  I found a noisy bar populated by the usual scum and villainy, and decided to mingle and see what I could find out.  I ended up talking to a deranged starship navigator who told me to "beware".  (This was determined by a die roll, where I got the most common result.  If I'd rolled a 1 I would have talked to a pale man sitting alone, and if I'd rolled a 2 I would have spoken to a fat woman playing cards.)  The navigator went off on a rant, and by the time he ended I had gleaned two things: something was going on at Rispin's End, and the "fat broad" playing cards at the table had something to do with it.  (Yes, the book really describes her as a "fat broad".  As far as this character is concerned, the descriptions of her get much worse.)

Rather then head out to Rispin's End immediately, I decided to keep an eye on the woman.  Despite her appearance and slovenly manner, she seemed to be in charge of the men playing with her.  Figuring that joining their game would attract too much attention, I waited until they were done and tried to follow her when she left the bar.  Unfortunately (due to rolling higher than my Skill on 2d6), I tripped over a motor unicycle, and the woman bolted.  She was fast for her size, but I was able to keep up with her (due to another roll against my Skill, this time successful).  She ducked into a five-story building, and soon I saw a light switched on in the window of the fourth floor.  Looking at the list of residents, the entire fourth floor was owned by a "Zera Gross, Import/Export".  Rather than attract more attention by waiting around, I decided to resume investigation tomorrow by visiting the library.

At the library I found an unused terminal and started going through old news reports about organised crime and narcotics.  I found very little, just one snippet that read: "Central Criminal Court 3: State vs. Z. Gross and B. "Blaster" Babbet. Before Justice Zark. Charge: trafficking in illicit organic materials (Satophil-d). Sitting 10.30 a.m."  I found a record of B. Babbet's address, but nothing further on Z. Gross (although it did indicate that I was on the right track the night before).  I decided to check out Babbet's address.

The place was a large, run-down warehouse. Rather then go in through the main entrance I went around the back and went in through a rear door.  At the end of a corridor I was faced with a choice of two doors, and went through the one to the left.  It led to a raised landing with a storehouse below.  Two men entered, and I lay down flat to hide.  I overheard them say that the "dope" was arriving from the asteroids tomorrow.  Figuring that I'd already pushed my luck, and that staying in the building might be dangerous, I left and returned to the starport.

Looking for someone who might know something about illegal space traffic, I started in the starport hangars.  I approached a lone shuttle pilot, and asked him without offering a bribe (again, I didn't want to cause too much suspicion).  He told me that there's been a bit of odd traffic around asteroid C-230, and that I'd be able to find it easily enough with my cosmo-nav.  Not trusting his information, I decided to head into the city to try to verify this information.

I asked around at a few places with no luck, but while I was having lunch at a sandwich shop two men with blasters approached and forced me into their car.  I was taken to a manor house in the country which was crawling with armed men.  I decided to play along rather than make a run for it.  Inside the house I once again met Zera Gross, and was told that I had to go to a meeting and pick up some documents for her "or else".  Figuring that "or else" meant a certain death, I opted to go to the meeting.

The meeting was with the wife of a Clive Torus, one of the gang's former associates, and was to take place in the city's botanic gardens.  As I approached Mrs. Torus, who was carrying a box containing the documents, a sniper fired at us from the bushes nearby.  We were both hit, and Mrs. Torus fell to the ground.  (I had to roll for damage on a d6 and rolled a 1, reducing my Stamina to 19).  The sniper raced out, grabbed the box, and made his getaway in a waiting car.

Not bothering to check on Mrs. Torus, I ran out onto the road and commandeered a passing car by throwing the driver out the door.  I gave chase in my new car, as my quarry disappeared over the crest of a hill.  I decided to drive at top speed, and was surprised when the road took a sharp turn, but I was able to keep my car on the road (with a successful Luck test that reduced my score to 9).  I chased the other car through a forest, matching its speed, and attempted to ram them from behind.  This had little effect, but I was still able to keep pace with them (with another Luck test that reduced my score to 8).  As the other car went through an S-bend I hit them in the side (requiring yet another Luck test that reduced my score to 7), and sent them spinning off the road.  None of the occupants survived the crash, but I was able to recover the box containing the documents.  These documents had lots of incriminating evidence against Gross and Babbet, as well as the location of their receiving facility on Kether, on an island about 4,000 km away from the mainland.

Hiring a helijet, I flew out to the island and landed on a landing bay.  There were two ordinary entrances  into the facility, and a large freight door.  Parked nearby was an antigrav dray (a dray is kind of truck or cart).  I investigated the dray, and decided that it would be a great idea to use it to ram through the freight door.  I did this to great success, killing four brutish-looking guards in the process.

The room was stacked with containers full of Satophil-d.  There was also the corpse of a man who was covered in bloody gashes, either the work of a savage beast or a skilled torturer.  There were no other clues on his person, but he did have a jar with four pep pills, which I took with me.

A corridor led me into a hexagonal room, where I was confronted by a seven-legged robot which waved  its sensors in my direction.  It offered me a riddle, which I would have to answer before I could pass:

Red I am,
the heart of a scorpion,
but not of Arachnia at all!
Pincers I have,
but I grasp with the unseen.
In one word, what am I?

This immediately brought to mind the constellation Scorpio, but I couldn't remember the names of any of the stars that comprised it.  I took a stab, answering "Antares", and was proven correct.  (In actual fact, I took a guess here.  I was thinking of the constellation, possibly due to faint memories from the podcast I mentioned above, but I couldn't remember the answer.  The book gives three options: a word starting with A, a word starting with S, or a word starting with X.  I picked A, and it ended up being correct, which got me past the robot without a fight.  Regardless, I take issue with Antares having pincers, and grasping with anything.  Those clues work for Scorpio, but not at all for Antares.)

At a junction I turned right, where I found a control panel saying that the next shuttle would be arriving in 75 hours.  Returning to the junction and going left, I entered the office of Zera Gross.  As soon as she saw me she reached for her blaster, and I returned fire.  Zera (Skill 8, Stamina 11) managed to hit me twice (reducing my Stamina to 11) before I shot her to death.  Her office was destroyed in the fight, so I raced down another corridor into a command centre.  There on some monitor screens I saw records of Satophil-d shipments, as well as the exact location of the asteroid that the drug was coming from.

I headed back to the mainland and took off in my ship, heading for the asteroid belt.  The asteroid I was headed for was surrounded by a minefield.  I decided to shoot the mines, but I misjudged their power and was caught in the blast (reducing my Shields to 1).

With the path clear, I approached the asteroid, but they had been forewarned by the exploding mines.  The Asteroid Defences (Weapon Strength 9, Shields 6) opened fire on me as I drew closer.  I softened them up with both of my smart missiles (which reduced their Shields by 2 each), and then we traded fire.  I came close to penetrating their defences, but my own Shields, already weakened, weren't enough to survive the barrage.  My ship was destroyed, and my adventure was over.


I think I did pretty well on my first go, as I suspect that I was pretty close to the end of the adventure.  It's honestly hard to tell, I have much more trouble figuring out how well I'm doing with these investigation-style gamebooks than I do with most dungeon-crawls.  My low Shields score was what did me in, but I did have some quandaries regarding ship-to-ship combat.  The first was with my smart missiles, where the book wasn't entirely clear if I could fire them both off at the start of the fight, or if I had to fire one each round while taking fire from the Asteroid Defences.  In the interests of actually beating the book, I opted for the former.  I also wasn't sure if enemies are destroyed when reduced to 0 Shields, or if you have to hit them again once they're on 0.  The latter is true for the player, so I decided to do it the same way for enemies as well.  This cost me, because I did get this enemy down to 0 before it killed me.  One more shot might have been enough for me to finish this book in one attempt, but it wasn't to be.  With better stats, I'll hopefully be able to get through next time (although the temptation to explore a different path will be hard to resist).

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Exploring Titan 16: Dungeon of Justice

It's time to finish up my coverage of "Dungeon of Justice" with a post delving into how it fits into the  Fighting Fantasy setting of Allansia.  This adventure is historic in its own way, because it actually does fit into Allansia.  Author Jonathan Ford went to the effort of giving this one a place on the map, which makes this one a lot easier to place than its predecessor, "The Dervish Stone".

The adventure takes place at the northern edge of the Desert of Skulls, which is said to lie some fifty miles south of Oyster Bay (home of the sadly departed Mungo).  (As an aside, there are a lot of desert adventures around this time.  This, "The Dervish Stone", Temple of Terror...  There must have been something in the cultural zeitgeist.  Indiana Jones, Dune, Star Wars?  There are no doubt other things I'm forgetting.)

On the southern edge of the desert is the prosperous town of Sapphire City, famous for its gemstone mines.  The protagonist of the adventure is planning to walk from Oyster Bay to Sapphire City, across the Desert of Skulls, which doesn't seem like the wisest career choice; if Oyster Bay to the desert is 50 miles, then the distance from there to the southern edge of the desert would be at least 500 miles based on one map of Allansia I've seen.  That map (the one from Titan) does have some coastal mountains along the western edge of the desert; perhaps Sapphire City is in those mountains, more south-west than true south?  It would be a more plausible journey.

The area between Oyster Bay and the Desert of Skulls is home to a tribe of elves, much uglier than most Allansian elves if the adventure's illustrations are anything to go by.  These elves have a twisted sense of justice: instead of putting criminals on trial, they throw them into an underground labyrinth where they must find a golden idol to prove their innocence.  I will note that none of the criminals encountered in the dungeon are elves: most of them are human (with one possible dwarf).  The only elf in the dungeons is found wrapped up in a giant spider's web, and may not have been a prisoner at all. It's possible that this form of justice only applies to outsiders.

Aside from criminals encountered, the creatures living in the dungeon are a mix of naturally occurring vermin (Giant Spiders, Giant Bats, Giant Porcupines), specially placed guardians (the two-headed dog Xlaia, Galon the Birdman, possibly the Mud Dragons), and administrative staff (the wizard at the end, and I suspect the sleeping old man as well).  The orcs and hobgoblin present are curious; it seems unlikely that the elves would have creatures like this working for them, although the wizard might.  They could also be prisoners, I suppose.

The most baffling encounter is the one with the Light-Worshippers, who are found dancing around a huge glowing crystal.  They're described as very small creatures with fine silver cloaks which float about them.  Their size makes it likely that they're not human.  They may be elves, but the real question is what they're doing in the dungeon.  I doubt they're prisoners.  Maybe they're a religious cult working for the wizard?

Let's talk about that wizard.  He's encountered at the end of the dungeon, and he's the one who leads the hero outside for his execution (or exoneration if they're lucky).  Even though it's the elves who throw the hero in, the ending implies that the wizard is really in charge, as he's the one who stays to wave farewell to the hero when everyone else has vanished.  He seems benevolent, but who knows.  If I had to put all of this together, I'd have him in charge of the whole lot: the elves up top, the elven light worshippers below, the monsters in the dungeon, and the whole justice system.  As for the reason for all of this, your guess is as good as mine.  I'm pretty sure I've already put more thought into it than the author did at the time.  (And that's not a knock, I've created loads of dungeons that are nothing more than rooms and tunnels filled with random monsters and traps I thought were cool.  I assume Jonathan Ford was a young boy or teenager doing much the same.)

Some smaller details:

  • Oddly, this dungeon contains an atlas that has a map of Analand.  The hero takes it, thinking it will be very handy.  I suppose at the time the author had no way of knowing just how separated Allansia and the Old World are.
  • Xlaia is the name of a two-headed dog, thought to have been extinct for 100 years.  I don't think there's been a two-headed dog in any of the adventures so far, but there's definitely at least one coming up (in Trial of Champions).  I suspect there are more, and that the Xlaia may just be a specific variety that's been almost wiped out.
  • One of the criminals is carrying a piece of triangular fruit that the hero thinks might be the legendary Xentos, the fruit of longevity.  Literally nothing else is said about it, but based on the name you'd expect it to extend the lifespan of whoever eats it.

NEXT: It's back to the main series for The Rings of Kether.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Dungeon of Justice - Final Thoughts

I probably said this when I covered "The Dervish Stone", but I expect very little from these fan-written mini-adventures.  As non-professional efforts, I'm happy enough for them to present a straightforward adventure that isn't doing anything new or interesting with the format.  I'm not expecting Creature of Havoc or Shadow on the Sand when I sit down to play one of these.

For the most part, author Jonathan Ford provided exactly what I expected with "Dungeon of Justice".  Being placed on trial is a novel (if nonsensical) way of getting your adventurer into the action, but from there it's just a straight-up dungeon crawl with a macguffin to hunt.  The FF rules are used well enough, the encounters are drawn from standard fantasy tropes, and it all holds together solidly enough to justify its existence as a mini-adventure in the middle of a magazine.  Except, of course, for its one crippling flaw.

There was no way that this wasn't going to be the major talking point of this review, so I'll get to it right away: you have to fail a roll against your Skill to find the idol and beat the adventure.  On the one hand you could say that this is a clever subversion of game design principles, and an ingenious way to disguise the path to victory.  I've played a lot of gamebooks over the years, and I sure wasn't expecting it.  On the other hand, it does feel very, very cheap.  With any sort of game design there's a certain amount of trust that has to exist between the designer and the player.  If you're playing a board game, you expect the rules to be clear, and for every player to have an even chance of success.  If you're playing a video game, you expect that it will be relatively free of glitches and that the game can be beaten fairly.  The same goes for gamebooks, and technically "Dungeon of Justice" can be beaten fairly, and with better odds of success than many of the main series books.  But requiring a failure to succeed just feels wrong.  It's more like being tricked by the author than challenged by the adventure, and for me it breaks that player/designer trust.

It's a shame because "Dungeon of Justice" is otherwise a decent amateur effort (despite some smaller design flaws and weird tangents).  This is a real case of one major flaw overshadowing a work that is - if not outstanding - at least solid.


The only encounter I missed that springs to mind is a magic mirror that forces you to fight a replica of yourself.  It brings up the twisted notion that killing your mirror image might end up as a form of suicide, but never does anything with it.  Other than that I covered everything else the dungeon has to offer.


There were a bunch of errors in the PDF that I was using, with a number of choices pointing to the wrong section.  I don't want to bring those up specifically, because I don't know if they're in the original or just a result of bad OCR.  The page for "Dungeon of Justice" at the Titannica wiki has some errors listed that I assume are from the original magazine.

There are a few items that are only here as treasures to be won, and serve no purpose within the adventure.  Some other items, such as the golden and brass keys, only unlock areas that lead to death and danger.  Everything else serves a purpose somewhere, but aside from the idol there are no items required to win.


This adventure has 14 instant death sections, and some of them are fantastic.  Whatever flaws Jonathan Ford has as a writer and designer, he's great at creating memorable demises, giving them a level of over-the-top gore or macabre detail that sticks in the mind.  I had a number of contenders here, but the passage below gave me a good chuckle with how over-the-top horrific it is.


Story & Setting: The notion of being put on trial and forced to prove your innocence by surviving a dungeon is nonsensical, but fun in a pulp fantasy sort of way.  There are some nods in the adventure itself towards making it a prison of sorts, but otherwise it's a generic dungeon with the usual assortment of orcs, monsters and giant creepy-crawlies.  The set-up is interesting, but it barely matters except as an excuse for the player to do some dungeon-crawling.  I'll give it an extra point for making an effort to integrate it with the setting of Allansia. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Toughness: It's decently balanced in terms of combat, with lots of weaker foes and some more difficult ones in area that are harder to get to.  It probably errs on the side of being a little too easy, statistically speaking.  The Golden Idol is deviously well-hidden; I do think that putting it in the river - usually the sort of area that would result in an instant death - is somewhat clever.  All the good points, however, are overshadowed by the requirement to fail a check to succeed.  That's enough to knock this one down to a low rating.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Aesthetics: Being stuck in the middle of a magazine never does these mini-adventures any favours, but Warlock always benefits from the presence of the Games Workshop artistic stable.  In this case it's Bob Harvey, whose work we've previously seen in Talisman of Death.  This is a step down from the work on display in that book, with far too many illustrations depicting mundane things such as books, traps, and sleeping old men.  Harvey excels at grotesquerie, and his monsters here are great.  It's a shame he didn't get a crack at drawing the Mud Dragons; the Christos Achilleos painting on the cover that depicts one isn't as fantastical as I'd like.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Mechanics: This adventure uses the standard instructions copy-pasted from The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, with no embellishments.  This means there's an error in the rules from the start, because it says you can only eat provisions when instructed; the adventure never says you can do so.  There are also a few links pointing to the wrong section, and a couple of other bits of rules weirdness (I'm thinking specifically of an awkwardly worded Luck bonus that ends up being a penalty if interpreted literally).  There aren't any game-breaking flaws, but there are enough small ones to add up. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Innovation & Influence: There's very little going on here that hasn't been seen before. Rating: 1 out of 7.

NPCs & Monsters: For the most part the monsters in this book are drawn from the standard FF/D&D list: orcs, hobgoblins, giant spiders, and the like.  Galon the Birdman is named, as is the two-headed dog Xlaia, but neither are presented differently from similar monsters in earlier adventures.  The Mud Dragons are the only unique monster, but they don't do anything that would make you think of them as actual dragons; in effect they're just large mud-dwelling lizards that can swell themselves up with swamp gas.  There are a few NPCs in the dungeon, but none of them show much personality. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Amusement: This is a weird one, in that I was finding it mildly enjoyable right up until I learned what I had to do to win it.  It's not a classic by any means, but I'm a sucker for a dungeon-crawl.  It was never going to rate super-high in this category, though.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 0.

The above scores total 14, which doubled gives a S.T.A.M.I.N.A. Rating of 28.  That makes it the lowest-rated gamebook on the blog so far.  Without its major flaw it might have scraped in ahead of "The Dark Usurper" and "The Dervish Stone" - I certainly enjoyed it more than "The Dark Usurper" - but in the end it was too big a flaw to ignore.

NEXT: I'll do an Exploring Titan on "Dungeon of Justice" and then it's on to The Rings of Kether.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Dungeon of Justice - Attempts 9 through 18

Yeah, you read that right, this post covers attempts 9 through 18.  I was keen to put "Dungeon of Justice" behind me, so I made a concerted effort to knock it off yesterday.  Did I succeed, and discover the Golden Idol?  Read on, and you may just find out!


For this attempt I rolled a Skill of 10, a Stamina of 18, and a Luck of 7.

I still had a few unexplored paths on my map of the dungeon, one of which was in the eastern area where I'd been killed by Light Worshippers in an earlier game.  I decided to use this attempt to check that path out, and after killing the unavoidable Thief at the start I made my way through several junctions to that encounter.  There I saw a number of robed figures performing a ritual around a glowing crystal, and when they saw me they moved to attack.  I was able to kill the Light Worshippers (Skill 9, Stamina 11) this time, but I was left with a meagre 4 Stamina.  After the battle the crystal stopped glowing, and when I inspected it it was nothing more than a piece of glass. I was able to loot 3 gold pieces from the Worshippers, though.

The tunnel continued north, but there was also a hole in the wall that led to a smooth slide.  Rather than heading north, I decided that sliding down into the unknown would be a great idea.  Not so much; I was dumped into a furnace and incinerated.


For this attempt I rolled a Skill of 11, a Stamina of 20, and a Luck of 11.

I couldn't be bothered fighting the Light Worshippers again, so this time I decided to make my way north to a secret door that I'd previously been unable to open.  Along the way I ducked into a side room to fight some Giant Bats, and take the Cape of Levitation and a Ring of Skill (cursed so that it gave no benefit).  One of the Bats, despite having a Skill of 6, really did a number on me; it started rolling absurdly high numbers, and ended up hitting me four times to reduce my Stamina to 12.

I made it to the dead end where I suspected there was a secret door, and this time I got it open with a successful Luck test.  The passage beyond was trapped with a crossbow; I passed the requisite Luck test, but the crossbow bolt still lodged in my shoulder, reducing my Stamina to 8.  It's a pretty rough penalty for success, but the alternative is an instant death, so I guess it is lucky under the circumstances.

On the way north I tripped and bent my shield, imposing a -2 Attack Strength penalty.  I'd reached this ridiculous section in an earlier game due to some faulty OCR in my scan of Warlock #5, but now I was getting to it legitimately.  North of that I passed a junction and came to a cliff, where I was able to float down using the Cape of Levitation.

I had reached the cave with the river, and the wooden bridge being eaten by giant termites.  In every previous attempt I'd crossed the bridge, assuming that trying to swim the river would be an instant death.  This time, I decided to jump in.  The current was strong, but with a successful roll of 2d6 under my Skill I was able to swim to the other side.

(I didn't come to this decision on my own.  Ed Jolley gave me a hint in the comments about reaching a certain point of the adventure four times, and making the wrong decision each time.  By process of elimination, I figured that the only place I'd visited four times was this bridge, so I decided to try something different.  A successful Skill test resulted in it being a non-event, but perhaps a failed Skill test might be of more benefit.  It would certainly fit the warnings I'd been getting from my readers that the solution to this one is a bit bullshit.)

On the far side of the river I headed west, and took the north path through the room with the mud pits.  This time I failed my Luck test while trying to cross, and a fearsome beast emerged: the dreaded Mud Dragon!  The Mud Dragon (Skill 10, Stamina 6) ended up being something of a pushover.  I used my Luck to dish out some extra damage, and hacked the creature's head off in two quick blows.

From there I was able to make it to the end of the adventure, but I still didn't have the golden idol.  Another failure.


With Skill 10, Stamina 21 and Luck 11, I headed west this time, sneaking past the sleeping dog and taking a couple of unexplored paths.  Both of these tunnels simply joined back to areas I'd already checked out.  At the river I jumped in, but once again I succeeded in testing my Skill and was able to swim across.  I ploughed quickly through the rest of the adventure, getting killed by the elves at the end.


This time I rolled a Skill of 7, a Stamina of 20, and a Luck of 12.  I decided to hurry north, not bothering to fight the Giant Bats and get the Cape of Levitation.  Because I didn't have the cape I had to take a detour and fight the Giant Porcupines, which managed to knock me down to 9 Stamina.

This time when I jumped in the river, I failed my Luck test, and was swept downstream.  As I passed a rocky island I was able to grab it with a successful Luck test and pull myself to safety.  There, hidden in a niche in the rock, was the Golden Idol I had been tasked with finding.  I carefully placed it in my backpack, and swam to the north shore of the river.

Quickly I made my way through the mud pit room, avoiding the Mud Dragon fight, and reached the old man at the end of the adventure.  I showed him the idol, and he led me outside to face the elves.  I was deemed innocent, and allowed to go on my way.  But when I turned back, the elves had vanished, and only the old man was there, nodding goodbye.  Then even he vanished, and I set off on my long journey to Sapphire City.


Success!  Well, maybe not.  See, the path I'd taken had resulted in my shield getting broken, meaning I had an effective Skill of 5 in combat.  I'd forgotten about that when fighting the Giant Porcupines, so this whole run was technically invalid.  I refought the battle, and got slaughtered.  So while I'd reached the end I didn't feel good about it, and was determined to beat the adventure legitimately.

Scanning the map I worked out the path that would get me through the adventure most quickly.  I found a path through the eastern area of the dungeon that got me to the river cave with no encounters; it did require two successful Luck tests to get safely down a rope, but with the Potion of Fortune that was no problem.  After the river there was only one Luck test required (to pass the Mud Dragon) to get to the end.  The whole adventure could be boiled down to the fight with the Thief at the start, two Luck tests, the Skill test at the river (and subsequent Luck test if I failed), and one more Luck test.

With the adventure distilled to its most basic elements, I set about rolling those dice.  The winning play-through came on Attempt 18, with a character that had a Skill of 10.

So that's that for "Dungeon of Justice".  I won't go in-depth on my feelings for it - I'll save that for a wrap-up post - but suffice it to say that I don't love the successful path requiring a failed Skill check.  There are just some unspoken rules about gamebook design that shouldn't be broken, and this is one of them.

NEXT: I'll do the usual wrap-up posts (Final Thoughts and Exploring Titan), and then it's back to the main series (yay!) for The Rings of Kether, a sci-fi adventure (boo!).