Saturday, 17 November 2012

Fighting Fantasy #6 - Deathtrap Dungeon

Firstly I'd like to show off the fact that my battered copy of Deathtrap Dungeon was signed by Ian Livingstone himself a few months ago. So nyeh. Whether this is a good omen for the adventure ahead, I do not know...

Title: Deathtrap Dungeon

Author: Ian Livingstone

Illustrator: Ian McCaig

Published: 1984

Level of previous knowledge: Sketchy. I do remember a ninja, a barbarian companion and having to collect gems. And of course the happy little fellow on the front cover.

Plot summary: Once a year the town of Fang is host to the Trial of Champions. Warriors from all over the lands come to enter Deathtrap Dungeon, a maze conceived by the twisted mind of Baron Sukumvit. No-one has ever survived the journey through the dungeon to claim the prize, but this year I have decided that I'll give it a shot.

Rules: Standard rules.

Click here to skip the adventure log

Adventure Log

Attempt #1
Stats rolled: SKILL 12, STAMINA 23, LUCK 12 (Yep, really. If I was going to cheat on my stats, I'd do it after I'd worked out the correct route!)

The entrance to the dungeon
Taking time out from my regular superhero duties, I stroll casually into the dungeon without fear...

Making my way confidently down the tunnel, I soon came to a stone table upon which were six boxes, each with a contestant's name on it. I opened the box with my name on to find two gold pieces and a warning from Baron Sukumvit that I would need to find certain items to get through the dungeon. Already knowing the author of the book, this came as no surprise. Sadly there was no option to open the other boxes and check them for gold - to be honest I wondered why the other contestants hadn't taken it all. Although maybe there were more than two gold pieces in the box originally? Curse you, other contestants!

Beyond the table was a junction. Aware that this decision would likely determine whether I stood any chance of success or not, I completely ignored the white arrow on the wall which pointed west, and chose the other direction. That'll show em. Judging from footprints on the ground, only one of the previous four contestants went this way, and I followed the tracks until I encountered a large, spongy, brown boulder. Consulting the adventurer's handbook on how to deal with large spongy things, I discovered that it could either swallow me up on physical contact, or explode violently if I pierced it with a weapon, so I looked for an option that involved doing neither of these things. Doh. Clambering gracelessly on to the boulder, expecting to be pulled in and suffocated at any moment, I was relieved to make it to the other side unharmed.

Soon the atmosphere in the tunnel started to become extremely hot. Finding a bamboo pipe on the wall, I examined it to find it filled with a clear liquid. Shrugging at what was probably another 50/50 chance of death, I took the risk and swallowed the liquid. Failing to drop dead on the spot, I continued on through the extreme temperature, and was informed that my choice had kept me alive. I preferred to believe that my superhero powers were responsible.

Coming to a door with an iron plate, I peered through to see a pit, beyond which was a rope on an iron hook. Entering the room, I bounded heroically across the pit, grabbed the rope and bounded heroically back across the pit before the wall grew spikes or the ceiling fell in. Suspiciously no such calamity occured, so I checked the rope for hidden weakness. Finding none, I crept out of the room, feeling like I'd beaten the system somehow. Maybe the pit was a trap and had already been set off by the owner of the footprints.

Lost in thought, I turned a corner and blundered into a pair of heavily-armed orcs, one of whom swung a morning star at me, knocking my sword to the ground. Unarmed, I pummelled the orcs into submission, and looted the corpses for a gold piece and a wooden tube. Weapons, who needs em? I will. Sadly I was unable to pick up the morning star, so retrieved my sword and contiued on.

The footprints led towards another door ahead, where they stopped abruptly. Opening the door carefully, I was greeted by the sight of a dead barbarian, impaled upon a spike trap. Gingerly making my way over to him, I searched his... loincloth, and found some dried meat which I chewed thoughtfully on. The trap was guarding a goblet containing a sparkling red liquid. Having already consumed two things in this dungeon and gotten away with it, I didn't feel like pushing my luck any further, and gave the drink a miss.

My route soon rejoined that of the other contestants, and I followed their footprints into a large cavern. In its centre were two stuffed bird-like creatures flanking a huge idol with jewelled eyes. Entranced by their glitteringness, I made a lasso with my rope, hurled it around the idol's neck and started to climb. Eyeing the birdies suspiciously, I reached the top and attempted to prise out one of the jewels. Obviously I was a poor judge of genuine precious stones - the 'emerald' shattered and released poisonous gas into my face, knocking me out. Not so bad, except for the fact that I was hanging off a rope six metres off the ground. Bounce, bounce, crunch. So long, superhero.

Conclusion: Failure. I fell foul of a classic 50/50 decision. Maybe I was fortunate to get as far as I did.

Number of combats: 2

Attempt #2
Stats rolled: SKILL 9, STAMINA 20, LUCK 9
Just a regular Joe this time - this might be a short trip.

Walking down the tunnel somewhat less confidently than my previous incarnation, I opened the box for the gold pieces and chose the other direction at the junction, following the three sets of footprints. Choosing randomly at the next junction I eventually encountered an unfriendly caveman who I named Ishbo. Despite conforming perfectly to caveman stereotypes (club - check, animal hides - check, grunt grunt spit - check) Ishbo did not survive our meeting, but he did manage to give me a minor clubbing for my trouble. Dismissing a bracelet made from rat skulls I found on his corpse (maybe it was a Bracelet of Devolution?) I nursed my wounds and continued along the tunnel.

Soon I spotted an abandoned backpack leaning nonchalantly against the wall. Not pausing to wonder why it was left here, I decided to have a quick rifle through it, being rewarded for my greed by a single gold piece and a bite from a nasty great big dirty poisonous spider, draining 6 STAMINA points. Ow, said I. I'll have a SKILL point too, said the spider. Grrrr.

Ignoring a couple of side tunnels (Who has time for those? It's not like I've been told I need to find and use several items if I hope to pass triumphantly through Deathtrap Dungeon) I found myself in a familiar chamber containing the jewel-eyed idol and the mangled corpse of my former self. Clearly not having learned my lesson, I attempted the climb again, this time without a rope. I was lucky enough to make it to the top, and strained to remember which eye was the fake that caused my demise last time. As I touched the other eye, two flying guardian bird-type things flapped towards me and attempted to peck my eyes out. Despite my precarious position I was able to fend them off, at the cost of merely all but 2 STAMINA points. Before doing anything else I had a large picnic on the idol's head, then prised out the emerald. Ignoring the other one, I descended acrobatically and entered the tunnel once more.

The next room I entered was completely bare. Suspecting a trap, I turned to leave but the door slammed shut. A voice then boomed out, demanding that I pay my respects to the dungeon's creator. Not expecting to survive much longer anyway, I responded that Sukumvit was a worm, and was surprised when the voice approved of my spirit. A gold ring magically appeared, which I picked up and wore immediately, without any suspicion whatsoever.

Further along the tunnel, I saw a shaft of blue light with images of laughing faces. Shrugging, I walked straight into it, causing the faces to look a bit upset. One of them whispered a poem about jumping into some water later on if I wanted to get through the dungeon, so I made a mental note of it and moved on.

Coming to another side door, I pushed it open and found myself in a cavern containing a pit of worms, wriggling around a fancy-looking dagger. Worms are harmless, right? Right. Lacking the option to hack at the worms with my sword, I reached in and retrieved the dagger without incident. That is, until a giant fly with a penchant for shiny blades attacked me for stealing its most prized possession. I showed it my own shiny blade, and it duly collapsed into a slimy, twitching heap.

The next junction offered no clues as to what might lie in each direction, so I flipped a gold piece and went eastwards. I soon came to a pit with a rope hanging from the ceiling. Deciding on the sensible option, I reached for the rope, had a quick check for any scheming bats, took a run up and leapt across. Unfortunately some dastard had sabotaged the rope, so I was soon on a short trip to the bottom of the pit, where I thankfully arrived fairly quickly, at the cost of a mere 2 STAMINA points. Oof, said I. And a SKILL point, said the floor. Argh.

Clambering out of the pit with a smooth rock in hand which turned out to be a ruby (score!) I continued on my way, whistling happily as I went. I may only have a SKILL of 7, but it wasn't like this book was going to contain any really hard fights, was it?

In the next room a crazy old man demanded that I answer his question correctly or be turned to stone. Knowing that it was certain death to attack anyone in lieu of answering a riddle, I reluctantly agreed. Fortunately the question was simple maths, and my hours of counting my decreasing STAMINA stood me in good stead. As a reward he restored a few of my stat points, including one of the SKILL points I had lost.

Further down the tunnel I entered another room containing a stone chair, upon which was seated an armed skeleton holding a piece of parchment. Cringing at the obvious trap, but apparently not thinking to try to disarm or otherwise get the jump on the skeleton before it stirred into motion, I reached for the parchment like a moron and ended up in a fair fight with the creature. Fortunately I only took minor wounds before I was standing amidst a pile of bones. The parchment seemed to be a page from an ancient manticore safety manual, so I held on to it, just in case.

I descended some stairs into a cellar, where I was offered the appealing chance of eating some mushrooms growing in a pile of rubbish. Sticking to my rule of never eating mushrooms in a Fighting Fantasy book (at least one named like this one) I ignored them and continued along the tunnel until I came to a trapdoor in the ceiling, behind which I could hear muffled voices. Assuming this was still Deathtrap Dungeon and not the cellar of The Staggering Foal, I deduced that the owners of the voices were unlikely to be friendly, so burst enthusiastically through the trapdoor to meet them. I cut down the two goblins in no time and had a quick rummage in their cupboards. I found nothing but a wooden mallet and some iron spikes, which I put in my backpack in case the Trial of Champions would ever require me to hang an exceptionally large picture frame.

Leaving through a door chosen by coin flippage, I came to a door decorated with someone's severed hand. Wondering if this was some form of goblinesque feng shui, I opened the door with caution, to find the hand's previous owner chained to the wall. I obliged his request to set him free, and he helpfully informed me that I would need to collect gems and precious stones if I wanted to succeed in my quest. I felt fairly positive about this, with two already in my possession. With that, he ran off to get himself killed in the dungeon somewhere.

Not far along the tunnel I was offered the chance to enter a metre-wide steel pipe in the wall. Unable to resist the golden opportunity to make myself as vulnerable as possible, I crawled into the dark, cramped space. After dragging myself along in an undignified fashion for a while I was informed that the pipe was also slimy. Ew! Reconsidering my direction, I quickly backed out of the pipe, grabbing a small wooden box on the way. The box contained a key and a sapphire, which was almost worth getting covered in goo for.

Squelching onwards, I soon came across the corpse of two orc guards, apparently slain by one of the other contestants. One of the orcs was wearing a necklace made from teeth, which I ignored - it was probably a Necklace of Extra Slobber or something. I soon had the pleasure of meeting their slayer, a taciturn fellow sporting a large axe and not much else - a key indication of barbarianism. Barbarism. Barbadarianism. Translating his occasional grunts, I agreed to accompany him for the time being.

Our fragile alliance was soon tested when we came across a wide pit, into which my companion, who was called Throm, offered to lower me with his rope. Judging him to be a straightforward kind of fellow who would have hacked off my head by now if he had a mind to, I trusted him to do this. Reaching the bottom at a non-fatal speed, I discovered a tunnel leading onwards and the barbarian climbed down to join me. Inside the tunnel was a shelf upon which sat two leather-bound books. The first fell apart in my hands but provided me with some information about the attractive creature on the front cover of the book, the Bloodbeast. The other book contained a bottle of liquid, which I decided looked like massage oil. I rubbed it into my wounds enthusiastically, but was disappointed when nothing happened. Shrugging at the barbarian, who was clearly starting to doubt my sanity, I led the way down the tunnel.

Throm soon drew us to a halt, sensing the approach of a pair of cave trolls. We hid in the shadows and I was about to suggest some kind of trickery to give us the upper hand when he leapt up and charged them. Sighing, I followed him into combat, and received a severe bashing for my trouble, barely surviving the fight. We found a ring on one of the corpses, which Throm told me would increase the wearer's powers if he proved strong enough to wear it. He also warned me not to touch it, which I took as a veiled insult, and smugly put the ring on my finger. That'd show him. Seconds later my body started to shake and I passed out manfully. I came to when Throm removed the ring from my finger, crushed it under his boot and grunted in disapproval. My grunt translator beeped and said 'southern softy'.

I staggered after Throm and we entered a cavern full of stalactites. Throm had an encounter with a resident mouse which he decided was hilarious and his booming laughter brought half of the ceiling down. Fortunately we were able to dash through the archway without injury before I gave him a good telling off.

Our next encounter was not so amusing. We entered a torchlit chamber to find a dwarf Trialmaster awaiting our arrival. He informed us that only one of us would be allowed to pass this point and this would be determined by a series of tests. Throm was all for squashing him there and then, and part of me agreed, but the meta-part of me that knows Ian Livingstone decided that this was probably a poor idea. I succeeded at a guessing game, then grabbed a cobra by the throat without injury. For the final test, I was given a couple of anagrams and told that each corresponded to the name of a monster. Choosing to fight the minotaur, I was soon made to regret my choice as it battered me to a pulp.

Conclusion: Failure. I made it much further than I expected with a SKILL of 9 though.

Number of combats: 9

Attempt #3
Stats rolled: SKILL 7, STAMINA 17, LUCK 11
These stats are a contradiction. Surely no-one this lucky would have both a SKILL of 7 and an irresistable compulsion to explore a deadly dungeon.

As my fate was already sealed by the first die roll, I resolved that during this attempt I would explore new routes where possible, and avoid combat as much as I could. With that in mind I took a different tunnel, and eventually came across a large iron bell, suspended from the ceiling. Wondering if it would summon a very large, helpful butler, I decided to give it a ring. The resulting bong caused the whole area to vibrate intensely, and I soon collapsed to the ground and wriggled about a bit. I lost 2 SKILL points before I was able to still the bell, making me approximately as skilled in combat as a three-legged weasel.

Further into the dungeon I encountered a pair of hobgoblins having a scrap in the middle of the tunnel. Rather than risk attracting their attention, I slipped past stealthily. After a sharp right turn the tunnel led to a series of wooden poles positioned across the tunnel, half a metre from the ground. Deciding to walk across the top of them, I was unsurprised when one shattered and sent splinters flying everywhere. 9 STAMINA points worth of splinters.

Irritated, I limped onwards to find myself in the chamber with the large statue, complete with guardians. Deciding the climb was pointless to attempt, I passed by, giving one of the immobile guardians a pat on the head as I did so. Soon after I declined the chance to fight a giant fly, some kind of giant worm, and an animated skeleton. In the mean time I managed to drop my shield into a pit after an extremely girly attempt to throw it across, costing me yet another SKILL point. Make that a one-legged weasel.

Eventually I arrived at the stone steps with a trapdoor at the top. Bursting through with my sword drawn would force me into a combat I had little chance of winning, so I decided on the diplomatic approach. Smoothing my hair back, I knocked politely on the trapdoor and waited. The trapdoor was thrown open and before I could say "Rat onna stick?" a goblin thrust a spear through my neck and my trial was over. Still, I avoided combat successfully...

Conclusion: Failure. Obviously.

Number of combats: 0

Attempt #4
Stats rolled: SKILL 12, STAMINA 20, LUCK 7
That will be a Potion of Fortune then.

All went smoothly through the first part of the dungeon and I was able to retrieve the emerald from the statue with only a minor scratch from the annoying guardians. I drank my potion of fortune fairly early on, just before attempting to jump over the pit without throwing my gear into it first. I avenged my previous incaration by enthusiastically hacking up the pair of goblins, and continued until I had met my barbarian friend Throm and progressed as far as the dwarf Trialmaster's chamber.

This time I failed at the dice game, and was forced to swallow a pill that turned me from slightly ill-fated to haplessly cursed. I fared better with the minotaur this time, and was allowed some time to recover before the final test. This was yet another combat, but this time I had to face Throm, who had apparently reacted badly to being bitten by the cobra in the second test and was now a delirious wreck. Despite this he managed to 'axe' some questions of my ability (huh? huh?) before I reluctantly put him down. The dwarf then showed up, crossbow aimed at my chest, and led me to a secret door leading onwards. Glaring at him coldly but thinking better of attacking a Trialmaster, I entered the tunnel.

Arriving at a junction, I headed towards a buzzing noise until I discovered its source - a large room full of giant insects, walled off by a large glass panel. In the middle of the room was a crown, in which was set a large diamond. Lacking any pesticide or means of covering up a bit (the option of wearing my backpack on my head was not, sadly, offered) I smashed the glass, waded into the room and retrieved the crown. By the time I escaped the room I had realised that the diamond was fake and I was in serious need of some Afterbite. I really didn't prepare well for this venture, did I?

Scratching furiously, I soon heard some footsteps approaching. Not wanting anyone to see me with large red welts forming on my face, I hid in the shadows while whoever it was shuffled past. Choosing randomly at the next junction, I came across a wooden chair shaped like a bird of prey, set into the wall. Usually I wouldn't even consider such a thing, but I was really itchy by this point and needed to pause for a good old scratch. Besides, a chair that has death practically written all over it wouldn't be particularly cunning, would it? Sitting down carefully, I gripped the arms in gruesome anticipation. All that happened was that a hidden panel sprang open, revealing a potion, helpfully labelled 'Doppelganger Potion'. Or was it Poison?

Beyond the chair the tunnel sloped downwards until it ended at a deep pool of water. Remembering the poem recited by the spirit girl some time ago, I fished around in my backpack for my diving gear. D'oh - I forgot that too! Nevertheless I swam down into the pool, eventually emerging on the other side of the wall. I then realised that I hadn't closed my lunchbox properly and all of my sandwiches were completely ruined.

Immediately feeling peckish, I continued on until I came to a cavern, in which a girl was wrestling with a giant snake. Racing to her aid, I heroically beheaded the creature but was too late to save her life. She gave me a couple of helpful pointers before expiring so I could loot her corpse in peace. Quite how she'd managed to accumulate so little on her journey through a dungeon packed with free stuff I didn't know, but at least she had some bread. And she'd remembered to close her lunchbox. Om nom nom. I buried her underneath a handy snake corpse and went on my way.

Coming to an iron grille in the floor, I reached in to retrieve a rope and grapple underneath. One thing I remembered from adventurer school is that you are often required to reach into things. One thing I forgot was that reaching into things often resulting in finding other things. In this case a large tentacle attached itself to my arm and crushed it comprehensively for 3 SKILL points of damage. That reminded me belatedly of another lesson I had forgotten - never reach into things with your sword arm. Idiot.

The next room I entered contained a wooden chest and footprints showing that someone had recently approached it. Expecting it to be looted (and therefore untrapped) already, I approached, only for my spidey-senses to start tingling. The potion I drank earlier enabled me to sense the trap still within the chest. Opening it from a distance, I avoided the poisonous gas but also avoided finding anything useful, only a pendant chain with a missing stone. Curse you, other contestant!

Continuing down the tunnel I soon came to a cavern containing a large number of troglodytes. Drinking my Doppelganger potion to disguise me as one of them (I couldn't help but feel that disguising as Baron Sukumvit might be more useful) I was able to walk past them, but the effects soon wore off and I was soon sprinting down the tunnel with the gang of hollering creatures in tow. I came to a locked door and in a remarkable feat of dexterity and quick thinking, produced the correct key from my backpack, unlocked the door, slipped through and locked it behind me before the troglodytes caught up.

Feeling pretty pleased with myself, I walked onward, soon meeting an old man with some kind of wicker basket-elevator contraption. He offered to give me a lift to the upper level, which was apparently the place to be. Giving him some junk from my backpack, I clambered into the basket and was heaved upwards to meet a female troll named Ivy. She demanded payment for her services so I handed her something from my backpack. I was penalised a LUCK point for giving stuff away, but frankly I was glad to be shot of that wooden spike.

Swiftly dispatching a pair of guard dogs I found myself in front of a high wall, beyond which some large creature was roaring ferociously. Climbing up the wall with the help of a grappling iron, I peered over to see the monstrous dinosaur-like pit fiend standing in the way of the exit. Deciding at random that now would be a good time to throw away that silly bone charm the elf girl was carrying, I tossed it into the pit, where the monster grabbed it in its jaws. The charm expanded to fill the creature's mouth and it stomped about in an annoyed fashion. Taking advantage of its distraction, I started to climb down the wall. My progress was hastened when the pit fiend slammed against me, causing me to fall the rest of the way to the floor. A LUCK score roughly equivalent to that of a flattened squirrel may have had something to do with this. I was then forced to engage the pit fiend in combat, which is of course where this adventure ended. Stupid tentacle.

Conclusion: Failure. My hazy memories of the book tell me that I'm on the right track, though, so progress made in that sense.

Number of combats: 14

Attempt #5

Stats rolled: SKILL 7, STAMINA 21, LUCK 9

Unsurprisingly this attempt ended at the claws of the flying guardians while scaling the statue.

Conclusion: Failure.

Number of combats: 4

OK, this is getting silly now. Time to turn cheat mode on. Four dice for stats, allocated as I see fit.

Attempt #6

Stats rolled: SKILL 12, STAMINA 20, LUCK 10
I take a Potion of Skill this time - I'm not taking any chances.

Taking the same path as in attempt #4, I managed to get as far as the pit fiend's room in similar shape, with a few notable differences - a) I had lost my rope to the stubborn statue, b) I had remembered to close my lunchbox properly and therefore still had some sandwiches left, and c) I had a suit of chainmail I took from the corpse of a certain dwarf Trialmaster who really had it coming.

Unfortunately the lack of a rope left me no choice (for some reason the bone charm wasn't an option from this angle) but to stroll into the pit fiend's er, pit, and wave my sword defiantly at it. An epic battle ensued, but in the end I was victorious, sitting on the monster's tail to eat a few sandwiches. At this point I noticed a trapdoor in the sand, which I lifted to find a shiny, well-crafted shield. Opening the door and entering the tunnel, I felt a surge of confidence - what with my shiny shield and chainmail, I was now a powerhouse of god-like proportions.

So it was no surprise when who other than Chuck Norris turned up to challenge me. Having just ignored a sign on the wall which tried to persuade me to leave my weapons behind, I had just entered a large hall when a throwing star whistled past my head, missing by inches. I was able to best him in combat and stripped away his mask, only to find the dead eyes of an imposter staring back at me. Curses! He hardly had any items, obviously preferring to travel light. Ah well, he wouldn't have stood a chance anyway. Unless killing me and looting my corpse for gems was his plan all along. Apparently he'd just thrown away his last throwing star, but I did find a diamond, which cheered me up no end. Lacking any other options, I jumped into the chute in the far wall.

When I emerged in the room below, I immediately regretted drawing attention to myself by yelling 'wheeee!' on the way down. I was face to face with the famous Bloodbeast, a disgusting creature wallowing in a pool of slime. Fortunately I was a well-read sort of chap and remembered what the leather-bound book said about the Bloodbeast. Stepping forward, I carefully employed my strategy of hacking desperately at its eyes until I hit the real ones. This took a while because somehow a fat, bulbous creature with no appendages to speak of, stuck in a pool of slime is just as skilled in combat as the now deceased pit fiend. Eventually my blade found its mark and I ran for it, not that the thing should have been able to stop me anyway.

Charging into the next room at full pelt, I was approached by a bizarre-looking manticore (although it was probably fairly normal-looking as manticores go). Asking the creature to hold on a sec, I rummaged in my backpack until I found the parchment I found on the skeleton earlier on. While the manticore tapped its foot impatiently, I had a quick read, put the scroll away and lifted my shield in front of me. As I nodded for it to carry on, the manticore unleashed a volley of spikes straight at my shield. "Jolly good shot!" I shouted, proceeding to hack the magical beast to bits.

No sooner did I catch my breath than a gnome showed up. Introducing himself as Igbut, one of the Trialmasters, he warned me that his magical powers were great and I should not attack him. He explained that I had arrived at the exit door, and needed to insert three gems into slots in the correct order to unlock it. Despite a brief panic that one of them might be one that I missed this time on account of not falling into a pit, I had all three of the required gems. Having received no clues as to the correct order, I chose at random and braced myself for a zapping. To my amazement, I had guessed right first time, and the door began to swing open. Before I could proceed Igbut ran excitedly through the door in front of me, smashing an orb on the ground which emitted acrid smoke. I avoided suffocation, and grumpily followed the gnome down the tunnel, only to find his corpse, complete with crossbow bolt ear accessory. Where are your magical powers now, shorty? Proceeding to the exit, I was greeted by cheering crowds who looked astonished to see me. Rather than wonder about why they were here if they weren't expecting a victor, I grinned smugly at Baron Sukumvit, who presented me with my prize and proclaimed me Champion of Deathtrap Dungeon.

Conclusion: Success!

Number of combats:16


Writing: The descriptions do a good job of portraying the environment of Deathtrap Dungeon. The concept of the book is an entertaining one - the idea of a deadly contest is engaging and enables the writer to experiment with all sorts of inventive scenarios. In this way the adventure consists of a number of isolated and varied encounters but does not suffer because of it. As the player you feel like you are being constantly tested, and the presence of puzzles, traps and Trialmasters emphasises this. The only thing I feel could have been improved on is the interaction with the other contestants, or at least the effects of their passage through the dungeon before you.
Writing: 4/5

Artwork: The dungeon is depicted superbly and the art does a great job of showing the reader how grim and dark the place is. The detail present in Ian McCaig's illustrations is amazing, especially in the drawings of the troglodytes, the mirror demon and the exit door, just to name a few. The bloodbeast on the cover is fantastic as well - such a shame they changed the cover for the Wizard reprint.
Artwork: 5/5

Design: This book contains mechanisms that would later be described as 'classic Ian Livingstone'. The shopping list of required items, the extremely narrow true path and the plethora of unavoidable, powerful adversaries are all typical signs of his work. These are quite divisive among gamebook players, some of whom argue that gamebooks should not rely so much on luck, whether through the dice or through uninformed choice. However this is Deathtrap Dungeon - it has been designed by Baron Sukumvit as a twisted game to challenge participants in as punishing a way as possible. The very concept of this book gives the writer an excuse to demonstrate his style, and he has done so very successfully.

The dungeon itself is laid out in a fairly interesting way, giving the player various routes to choose from, even though many are on the 'wrong path'. Sometimes I could kind of tell that I was on the correct route because the encounters and puzzles were more interesting and greater in number. Some of the false paths towards the end seem to hurry you to the Bloodbeast's room, as if the writer didn't think it was worth fleshing them out when you were going to fail anyway.
Design: 4/5

Fairness: I'm torn between two perspectives on this category. This book is downright unfair, there's no doubt about that. The only reason I finished it in so few attempts was that some memories came back to me as I played, such as the fact that crawling further down the slippery pipe after picking up the sapphire leads to instant death. That said, of all the books in the Fighting Fantasy series, this one (along with Trial of Champions) has the ultimate excuse - the dungeon is supposed to be unfair, and you are not expected to prevail. On one hand, this level of challenge enhances replay value and makes victory all the sweeter. On the other hand, replaying a book over and over until you find the solution becomes a mechanical exercise which isn't some players' idea of fun.
Fairness: 3/5

Cheating index: Yes, I helped my stats along on the final attempt by rolling four dice and allocating them as I wanted. There really was no point in taking any character with a SKILL lower than 11 into the dungeon once I'd worked out where the true path was.

 1 Razaak

Average enemy stats
Successful path
16 encounters, SKILL 8.4, STAMINA 8.2
Entire book
40 encounters, SKILL 8.4, STAMINA 8.3

Instant death paragraphs: 30

Any player can win no matter how weak initial dice rolls: It doesn't really need saying that this is a complete LIE.

Final thoughts

The level of difficulty may make this book a bit frustrating for some but there is no doubt that this is a classic and in my opinion is one of the most enjoyable of the series. Even if you don't finish it, or end up cheating to do so, you'll have a lot of fun exploring the dungeon, and finding new and entertaining ways to get yourself killed.

Final score: 8/10


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Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Fighting Fantasy #5 - City of Thieves

(For those who have read the first attempt, click here to skip to the second one.)

Title: City of Thieves

Author: Ian Livingstone

Illustrator: Ian McCaig

Published: 1983

Level of previous knowledge: Reasonable. I seem to remember that a thorough approach is required to collect necessary items and that there's a fairly tough fight near the end. I don't really recall the details of any specific encounters though, so success will depend on whether the situations I find myself in jog my memory.

Plot summary: Hi, I'm a generic adventurer. You might remember me from such playthroughs as Fighting Fantasy #3 - Forest of Doom. After wandering into the town of Silverton, I have a very one-sided conversation with its mayor, who talks me into undertaking a simple-sounding task. I must find a wizard called Nicodemus in Port Blacksand and persuade him to come and save the town from the wicked Zanbar Bone, whose minions have been steadily murdering the population night by night.

Rules: After the plethora of new rules in Starship Traveller, it's comforting to be back in the realm of normality.

Click here to skip the adventure log

Adventure Log

Attempt #1
Stats rolled: SKILL 12, STAMINA 21, LUCK 10
Blimey. With stats like these I should be able to lay waste to Port Blacksand. A shame this mission is such an ostensibly simple one...

As I approached the gates of the notorious city of Port Blacksand, I was met by an unpleasant member of the town guard who politely requested that I state my business. He didn't appear to have the head/body of an ape/dog, so I decided to attempt a novel approach and told the truth. I was therefore surprised when more guards emerged with the intention of locking me up. Inwardly shrugging my shoulders, I wrenched myself free of their grasp, knocked their heads together and dashed into the city.

Picking a street at random, I soon came across a scruffy, miserable-looking fellow sitting in the gutter. I approached him, intending to cheer him up with some witty banter and maybe glean some information, and was rewarded for my efforts when he leapt at me brandishing a knife. Making short work of him, I found a smoke-filled glass ball on his corpse, which I smashed on the ground. Inexplicably the smoke coalesced into the shape of a helmet, which solidified before my eyes. Bemused, I placed the hard-won treasure on my head and continued on my way.

After a left turn I came across a large house, the door to which had carelessly been left wide open. Never one to miss out on a spot of opportunistic burglary, I decided to have a poke about inside. I was disappointed by the contents, however, as the first room was very sparse, and more than a little smelly. Investigating further I soon came across the occupant, a worried-looking ogre. He asked me for food and I refused on the basis that he could easily have eaten everything I was carrying and it would barely touch the sides. Before I could offer to go and hunt down a hippo or giant badger (I don't know what ogres eat) he decided that I looked tasty and tried to hit me with his giant bone. This was not as fun as it sounds; however I was able to escape bonage and overcome him. A rummage through his belongings revealed a small wooden box. After a quick listen for any suspicious hissing noises from within, I smashed the box to smithereens and took the gems and gold within. There was also a dainty-looking silk glove, which I tried on immediately - if vagrants carry skill-enhancing helmets around town in glass balls, then surely this would be something equally as fantas-- aargh! The glove became hot and burned my hand, permanently damaging it in the process. Stupid glove.

Further down the street I was conned by a small boy into paying to drink some water which he claimed to have magical healing properties. Upon realising that the water was unremarkable (although it is perhaps remarkable that it wasn't yellow) I shook my fist at the boy 'in mock anger'. Mock? I'd just wasted three gold pieces, and if the fate of the world rested upon my shoulders (I wasn't sure it did, but you never know) then I was going to need every possible resource I can get! That boy may have just doomed us all. Oh well.

Muttering distractedly to myself, I was surprised by three dwarven muggers who jumped at me from an alleyway. They were annoyingly successful at knocking me out and I woke up to find that the rest of my gold had been stolen. Those dwarves may have just doomed us all!

Cursing my luck and rubbing my sore head, I staggered into a flower shop. Despite having no money I doubtfully agree to have a look at one of the florist's 'special' flowers. She seemed aware of my unspoken plight, explaining that the petals of her golden flowers will turn into gold pieces under the right set of circumstances. Bizarrely, those circumstances involved dipping them in dog's blood, but I assumed that ingredient probably wouldn't be too hard to find in Port Blacksand, so traded some provisions for the flowers and left the shop, wondering if the petals might have more interesting uses.

In the next shop I sold the gems I found in the ogre's house (which the dwarven muggers must have ignored on the basis that they're not gold). My attempts at haggling nearly provoked the shopkeeper into a frenzy of violence, so I calmed him down and accepted the measly sum he offered.

This was further reduced a short while later when I was pickpocketed by an old woman in the town square. She may have just doomed us etc etc. Refusing to pay a colourful-looking musician to sing a song of fortune (although judging from the start to my adventure, I'm in need of it), I notice a muscle-bound man challenging all-comers to a game of catch with a cannon-ball. Confident in my skill and strength, I took him up on his challenge. Unfortunately it turned out to be a contest of random chance rather than skill or strength, and I lost the game and 5 gold pieces.

Having been fleeced of my gold so many times be this accursed city, I thought that I may as well carry on in the same vein, and handed over more gold to hear a clairvoyant proclaim more doom and gloom upon me. Sure enough, no sooner did I leave her tent than it began to rain steadily. Taking shelter in a derelict house, I found myself sharing the abode with a swarm of snakes, which of course attacked immediately. I escaped without any bites and left the house to find it had stopped raining already. Just a passing shower, I guess.

Eventually I arrived at a bridge over the river, and descended the steps to find Nicodemus in his hut. My joy at reaching the end of my quest soon evaporated when he informed me that he was too old for adventuring and he would instead tell me how to defeat Zanbar Bone myself. Hurrah? (OK, I wasn't really naive enough to think I could just hand the quest over to an old wizard and go off home). I also received the happy news that I would need a whole stack of obscure items in order to complete my quest, as well as the kind of tattoo that would ensure I would be laughed at for the rest of my life. Which would probably be very short, anyway, because Zanbar Bone had a whole host of minions which I would have to deal with first. Hmph...

Muttering to myself about lazy wizards, I continued on my way until a doorway caught my eye. Something about the six skulls painted on it made it feel quite welcoming, so I entered and found myself in a dimly-lit room with a smiling man who sat me down and offered me the chance to participate in a deadly game. Six pills, one is poisonous, survive swallowing one and acquire a tidy sum of gold. If I died, he would keep all my possessions. Well, it seemed legit. It wasn't like the citizens of Port Blacksand were scoundrels who would, say, manipulate the odds by giving me five poisoned pills and one safe one, or something like that. Anyway, I was desperate for the cash, given the recent acquisition of a large shopping list, so I agreed to the game - and survived! Blacksand 5, Me 1!

Skipping happily along the street I was alerted to the sound of an argument coming from a nearby house. Peeking inside revealed two old women, dressed as little girls and squabbling over a child's toy. They demanded a toy from me, but I handed over some food instead, hoping it would shut them up for a bit. I took advantage of their distraction to look around but, finding only a bowl of soup, thought better of the whole thing and left.

At the end of the street I was recruited into a game of 'Bay's Ball' by a group of odd-looking (although not odd for this city) creatures. I managed to hit the Blacksand equivalent of a home run to win the game for my side and the supporters hailed me as their hero. I emerged from the crowd slightly richer and with a myriad of useful-looking useless items. Pleased with my change of fortune, I tossed a gold piece to a nearby beggar, and was rewarded with a LUCK point.

With a new, positive attitude, I decided to wander into a nearby alleyway, where I was set upon by a pair of slavering wild dogs. I dispatched them without fear, and then remembered the golden flowers I was carrying around. After dipping the petals in the blood of my foes, I emerged from the alleyway richer to the tune of 10 gold pieces. I wondered how I had managed to walk into an alleyway in Port Blacksand without being robbed, murdered or press-ganged, and could only assume that the dogs had eaten whoever had been lying in wait. And then buried the bones.

After dodging a poorly-driven horse-drawn carriage I found myself at the quayside, looking up at a pirate ship. I couldn't make out its name, but I assumed it wasn't the Black Pearl that was on my shopping list. Nevertheless it was worth checking out, so I walked casually down the jetty and climbed a rope ladder to the deck. I decided to knock out the guard here to allow me to search around, so I found a piece of wood and bashed him over the head with it. Obviously a SKILL of 12 does not enable me to knock a man out with the hilt of my sword - only a 2x4 will do. Sadly I found nothing of interest on the deck, but the lower deck proved more interesting. In one room I found three sleeping pirates, and was able to cut a leather pouch loose from one of them. The pouch contained black pearls, so I was finally able to cross something off my list. Emboldened by my good fortune, I threw open another door, where I surprised a fat, unarmed bathing pirate who turned out to be very informative, advising me that I would find a silversmith to make me an arrow on Clog Street. Things were definitely looking up!

Leaving the ship without incident, the next junction conveniently met with Clog Street. Stopping briefly to help and then kill a small boy who turned out to be a nasty little goblin with a knife, I entered a candle shop because all hardened adventurer types obviously love candles.While I stared at the dazzling candles the elven shopkeeper doomed us all by stealing from my backpack. I had no recollection of the theft, however, so maybe I'd notice next time I opened my pack for any reason...

The next shop I came to was the silversmith, who helpfully made me a silver arrow there and then and asked for 10 gold pieces. Reaching into my pack for my money I -- aargh! Who stole my precious eye patch and knucklebones? I bet it was that elf! I've a good mind to go back and...

Turning into the next street I was confronted by a crazy, warty man who offered me the dubious opportunity of buying a drink of his 'healing potion'. Given that 1) I was in no imminent need of healing, 2) everyone here was a con artist and 3) if the potion would give me that many warts I'd rather go without, I refused the offer and continued on.

I soon came across a manhole, which of course I lifted and climbed down into the sewers. No respectable adventurer ignores the chance to wander dank, smelly tunnels and slaughter some giant rats. In fact, doesn't every respectable adventurer start his career that way? I got exactly what I expected when three large furry forms launched themselves at me from the darkness, and defeated them with ease. Further along the tunnel I was attacked by a hag wielding vile sorcery. Fortunately I had time to rummage in my pack and retrieve the Potion of Mind Control which was apparently among the prizes I received from the Bay's Ball supporters. Under the effects of the potion I was able to pluck out a tuft of the hag's hair (good thing I remembered that was on the shopping list - ahem) and throw her into the sewer in a surprising fit of mercy. Exploring the tunnel in the other direction, I killed a giant centipede that may have given lesser adventurers quite a bit of trouble. At the end of the tunnel I sensibly reached into a dark, slimy hole and retrieved an inexplicably located mirror. I then decided that I'd spent enough time wallowing in excrement and made my way back to street level.

Around the corner I encountered three vagabonds intent on robbing me. Each of them boasted that he could kill me single-handedly. Unfortunately for them, they did not have access to the same statistical information as I did.

The next door to catch my eye was a large, wooden affair with a serpent's head carved into it. As I entered the house, a woman's voice challenged me from behind some curtains, so I pretended to be delivering flowers from Lord Azzur himself. The curtains were drawn back and the woman revealed herself to have a snake-like head. She asked for the flowers, and at this point I realised I hadn't really thought this plan through. A fight with the Serpent Queen ensued and after my victory I found a pouch of gold while rummaging around. City of Thieves indeed...

Moving on, I visited the local blacksmith, who offered me some fine chainmail for the pretty sum of 20 gold pieces. By this point I was rather weighed down by all the money that was coming my way, so I agreed and left the shop 2 SKILL points better off. (Note - I apply bonuses like this to my Attack Strength rather than my SKILL as it makes no sense that I'd have to have a crippled SKILL to benefit from new armour)

Outside a man in rags with a ball and chain staggered up to me and begged for my help. My first instinct was to help the escaped prisoner, so I attempted to cut through his chains. I looked rather stupid when I was unable to do so and four town guards quickly surrounded me. Realising that I was a wrong move away from being thrown in prison myself, I quickly offered them a bribe. Sadly I had nothing of interest to them, so I was forced to make a run for it, tossing some gold on the floor as a distraction.

My escape led me into the public gardens, which I thought would be a good place to hang out until the heat was off. They also happened to contain some lotus flowers which I required for my mission. As I picked the flowers, however, I was attacked by some local topiaries. Fortunately my shiny new armour saved me from any damage and once again I ran for it before I drew any more unwelcome attention.

Before long I found myself outside a tattoo shop, and sighed with resignation. This was it - the moment I would kiss goodbye to my looks, my self-esteem, and any chance of striking fear into the heart of an enemy again. Laughter, maybe. I went inside, and before I could say "Do you have anything in non-permanent ink?" I was pricked into submission. Seriously considering going back to the blacksmith and asking for a full helmet, I resumed my journey.

As I passed a couple of trollish town guards, I was stopped and interrogated, then arrested for no apparent reason. I was, however, allowed to pay a fine of all the gold left in my backpack (not much, at this point, and my shopping list was complete) and be thrown out of the city. As my backside hit the road outside, I vowed that if I ever came back here, it would be to see those two guards hung by their own intestines. For now, I had more important things to do.

I made camp that night under a tree, and awoke to find a bird with a message. Apparently Nicodemus was a complete idiot and gave me false information about the ingredients I would need to kill Zanbar Bone. I would only need two of the three, but the wizard could not remember which, so rather than tell me to hang back a bit and let him do a bit more research, he simply suggested that I try one of the three possible combinations and accept that there was now a two-thirds chance that I'd be screwed before I even arrived at Zanbar Bone's tower. Gee thanks, Nicovingstone. I vented my rage on a passing orc and made the trek to Zanbar Bone's tower.

I was greeted at the entrance to the tower by a pair of Zanbar Bone's Moon Dogs, which I had obviously disturbed from chewing on the bones of thousands of previous adventurers. They met their match this time, however, and it was with an air of smugness that I tugged on the cord hanging just outside the door. Hang on a sec - why does an evil mastermind even have a doorbell? And more importantly, why did I just ring it, announcing my presence to the entire tower? I did not have time to consider this for long, however, as the door opened and a servant peered up at me. I pretended to be a lost traveller, and he invited me in to stay the night. Don't mind if I do! I was shown to my room, where of course I climbed into bed and settled down for a pleasant night's sleep...

...or not. After the servant was out of earshot, I sneaked out of the room and climbed the stairs. Opening the door I found here, I found myself face to face with a vampire. Luckily I seemed to be carrying some garlic in my hand, and she recoiled in horror, allowing me to back out of the room and lock the door. I encountered another door on the next floor, which I opened to find nothing but pitch blackness. Having no way to illuminate the darkness, I shut the door and continued onwards. Surely Mr Bone would be waiting at the top of the tower anyway.

So I climbed the stairs again, to find myself on a landing with two doors - one white and the other black. Zanbar Bone's voice then boomed out, mocking me for the ridiculous tattoo on my face. Opening the black door, I found myself in an unsettling room. Looking around, I saw black candles, a large mirror and a large, open chest containing a golden skull. Walking across the room, I was disconcerted when the chest  vanished before my eyes. I was even more disconcerted when skeletal fingers touched my skin and began to drain my life force. Before long I was just another of Zanbar Bone's skeletal servants. Maybe he'd let me be a skeleton rather than a zombie, though - at least that way my stupid tattoo wouldn't be visible any more...

Conclusion: Failure. But so close...

Number of combats:18

Attempt #2
Stats rolled: SKILL 7, STAMINA 20, LUCK 10
Ah, crap.

Somewhat less confident in my abilities than my previous incarnation, I decided to take a different approach at the gates. Fortunately I was able to convince the guard that I was here to sell some stolen booty, which happened to be cursed and not suitable for viewing by untrained eyes. Rejecting his kind offer of advice for gold, I wandered straight into the city.

Turning left into Key Street, I immediately came across a locksmith's shop. The dwarven proprietor boasted that he could make a key to fit any lock in Port Blacksand. Surely, I thought, everyone would want one of these keys, as this city consists of nothing but thieves. Somehow I found myself disbelieving of his claim and left without paying his exorbitant price.

Further down the street a young boy ran out and handed me a note, before disappearing around a corner. The note warned me that I should leave 10 gold pieces in the street before moving on or I would be shot by watching archers. I would have liked the option to pretend to leave the gold, or perhaps to run for my life, but I could only leave the gold or carry on walking. Believing that this whole thing was probably a con anyway, I shrugged and continued on my way - and seconds later an arrow pierced my side. Only the one, though. Definitely worth 10 gold pieces!

As I staggered onwards a small girl beckoned me towards a house, and I followed. Inside an old man treated my wound, restoring most of the health I lost, then asked for my sword as payment. Rather than offer him something else (I still had all my gold this time around!) I handed over the weapon in the absence of a sensible option.

Now possessing all the combat skill of a doorknob, I proceeded carefully, coming to a brightly coloured house with a welcoming sign hanging from the door. Wondering if a particularly festive weaponsmith might reside within, I entered the house. Inside I climbed the stairs and came face-to-face with a reptilian creature who calmly asked if I would like to buy one of its brooches. Given my current weaponless situation, I thought I'd take any help I could get, and purchased a brooch which would heal me slightly after each combat. Assuming I survived...

...which I didn't. As I exited the building two town guards approached and asked to see my pass. I said 'pass', which didn't amuse them in the slightest, and they attempted to arrest me. Rather than go quietly, I drew my -- erm, posed narcissistically and threw myself into combat. I was able to take one of them down but by that point the other only had to sneeze on me and I was finished. Rats.

Conclusion: Failure. And not remotely close.

Number of combats:2

Attempt #3
Stats rolled: SKILL 11, STAMINA 19, LUCK 10

OK, I might stand a chance this time.

Fooling the guard at the gate with my imaginary cursed merchandise, I entered the city and took the street in front of me, hoping for a more direct route to the market square. Along the way I popped into a herbalist's shop and bought some healing mixture. Surprisingly I wasn't ripped off, and the stuff seemed to be genuine. Wondering if I had come to the wrong town, I left the shop and continued northwards.

I then came to the Spotted Dog, a dingy establishment but one that I felt compelled to investigate. Striding confidently past the collection of miscreants inside, I ordered a drink from the innkeeper. Unfortunately the level of service was below par, and I was refused service. Given the choice of a fight or dignified retreat I chose the latter, and continued on my way.

The unfriendly nature of the citizens of Port Blacksand was further reinforced when a pair of thieves attempted to relieve me of my possessions. They failed in this, of course, and I was free to help myself to their no doubt ill-gotten riches. I ignored a phial of liquid, though, expecting it to be some kind of poison.

Seeing a grand-looking house set back slightly from the street, a mischievous voice in my head alerted me to the potential opportunity for some light thievery of my own. When in Blacksand, after all. My attempt was nearly abandoned, however, when a large wolf rushed out of the kennel I had previously ignored (I would have failed my thief exams) and aimed for my throat. Fortunately its chain was too short and it was left snapping at thin air. I successfully forced the door (OK, I'm more of a thug than a thief) and headed inside, my eye quickly caught by a large chest. My clumsy attempt to pick the lock succeeded, and I was lucky to avoid being hit by a pair of poisoned darts. Inside the chest I found a heap of gold and a shiny shield. Wondering what other goodies this house had in store, I crept up the stairs and cursed as I heard the owner return home. Seconds later a flying imp appeared, spitting fire. I spitted it on my sword (huh? huh?) then proceeded downstairs to confront its master, who unexpectedly chucked a bolt of lightning at me, knocking me to the floor. In my prone state, however, I was still able to throw my sword at him, piercing his chest and killing him outright. Feeling slightly embarrassed, I retrieved my weapon and left the house, giving the kennel a wide berth.

Soon after, I found my way to the now familiar market square. Here I bought some nameless food, listened to a lucky song and bought a throwing knife, a lantern and a rope with some of the vast amount of gold I was carrying. Then I left the square, ignored the snake-infested house and continued to find Nicodemus in his hut. Re-treading old ground, I ignored the house with skulls painted on the door, as I had no need to risk my life for money. I also ignored the sounds of arguing from an open window, and carried on to find the Bays playing their game behind a stone wall. Joining a team, I once again saved the day and was rewarded with a selection of dubious prizes.

As focused as I was on my goal, I walked straight past a miserable-looking beggar, who I probably could have fed for a year. Oh well. Finding my way to the pirate ship, I retrieved the black pearls from their owner with surgical precision, and continued on to the silversmith, from whom I bought a silver arrow and a set of matching tableware. Ignoring a crazy old man, I performed the very sane series of actions of lifting a manhole cover, playing with some rats and pulling out an old woman's hair. Climbing back out of the sewer, I cleaned myself off with my new ratskin handkerchief and continued down the street.

I was prepared for the vagabonds this time, and a timely knife thrown at their leader took him down and deterred the others from taking me on. Ignoring other distractions, I made my way to the blacksmith's shop where I purchased a shiny chainmail coat for a mere 20 gold pieces. Upon leaving the shop I was approached by the escaped prisoner who almost got me into so much trouble on our last meeting. Turning him over to the guards like the model citizen I am, I was rewarded with more gold! This easily paid for my trip into the public gardens, where I performed the public service of trimming (well, hacking) some hedges, before leaving with the important lotus flower.

The final item on my shopping list was soon taken care of by the tattoo artist, and I was free to annoy the guards into throwing me out of town. That night at my camp site I battled a giant snake for the right to take on Zanbar Bone. Maybe I should have let the snake win, although I don't think he would have been very successful with the whole firing-a-silver-arrow thing.

After a fairly easy battle with the moon dogs, I found myself at the door to Zanbar Bone's tower. Unsure as to what I did wrong previously, I resolved to do things a bit differently this time, and attempted to break down the door. My attempt was successful but not without painful injury, and the noise alerted a servant. Determined that no-one would stand in my way, I ran him through with my sword, to remarkably little effect. I resorted to firing my silver arrow at him, which had a much better result, and the spirit stalker melted into a puddle of goo. Stealing a shiny shield from the wall (are there bonuses for wearing two shields?), I climbed the spiral staircase.

I soon found myself in familiar territory, and ignored the doors concealing vampires and impenetrable darkness. Eventually I found myself on the landing with a black door and a white door. I opened the white door into a room containing nothing but a decorated sarcophagus, the opening of which disturbed the resident mummy. Fortunately I had remembered to light my lantern when I entered the tower earlier (ahem) and I threw it at the creature, which burst into flames and was consumed in a matter of seconds. Inside the sarcophagus I found a gold ring, which my in-built Encyclopaedia Allansia informed me was the Ring of the Golden Eye, famed for its ability to allow the wearer to detect illusions. Handy!

Hoping that I now had everything I would need to defeat my nemesis, I crossed the landing and opened the black door. As I walked into the room, my shiny new ring alerted me to the illusion before me, and suddenly Zanbar Bone himself stood before me. In true evil villain fashion, he summoned several skeletal minions for me to deal with before I could fire my silver arrow. I supposed he was stalling for time, as the skeletons were much weaker than the moon dogs which I had casually dispatched outside. As the third skeleton fell, I fired my silver arrow and pierced the Night Prince's dark heart. Dashing over to the prone form, I frantically rubbed my compound into his eyes - black pearl and lotus flower. Sadly I chose wrongly, and it had no effect. Zanbar Bone reached out, and once again I was recruited into his employment.

Conclusion: Failure. Did I mention that I hate wizards? I hate wizards.

Number of combats:15

Sigh. From this point on the adventure logs will be much shorter as I'm re-treading old ground...

Attempt #4
Stats rolled: SKILL 12, STAMINA 18, LUCK 12
Right, no excuses this time. Except that there's still a 50/50 chance of getting the wrong combination...

...phew! No need for a long tale this time - just imagine the previous attempt, but this time getting the combination right. It was a walk in the park, with only the moon dogs managing to so much as scratch me in combat. Setting fire to the tower on the way out (you know, just to make sure I kill any innocent prisoners within) I made my way back to Silverton and a hero's welcome. Funnily enough the mayor's daughter didn't volunteer for marriage - something to do with the ridiculous tattoo of a UNICORN ON MY FACE perhaps? Join us next week for the sequel, Revenge of the Other-Four-Moon-Dogs-The-Hero-Forgot-To-Kill...

Conclusion: Success!

Number of combats:12


Writing: The hero's characterisation may be fairly thin, but the setting for this book, Port Blacksand, makes it a much more enjoyable read than Forest of Doom. The world feels more fully realised and vibrant, and every step of the way through the city provides opportunities for adventure. You really get the impression that it is a city in chaos, where a wrong move could end with you in the gutter, but also where you can come out ahead if you're willing to 'play the game' like everyone else in Port Blacksand. From the city guard to the lowliest beggar, you're never quite sure who is out to get you, or who might be helpful... for a price. The writing throughout is descriptive, and although there are occasions where obvious options are not included, there are usually multiple ways to deal with each situation.
Writing: 4/5

Artwork:The illustrations are incredibly detailed and do a great job of depicting the setting of Port Blacksand. You really get the impression that everything is cluttered, from the dirty, rubbish-strewn streets to the interiors of the various houses and shops. The sheer level of detail makes the artwork stand out as some of the best I've ever seen in a Fighting Fantasy book.
Artwork: 5/5

Design:I liked that this was a traditional romp in that there are no extra rules to contend with - the setting did not need any. Instead you can just sit back and enjoy the ride as you progress through the city, rather than faffing about with adventure sheets for too long. The first stage of the book offers three main routes to the market square, none of which contain anything essential to the plot, but all present their own opportunities and challenges. After the meeting with Nicodemus, the game becomes an item hunt. Most of the shopping list can be obtained simply by being thorough - however a couple can be missed entirely if you turn the wrong way at a junction. This wouldn't be so bad if the route weren't so linear, but I guess the ability to go backwards would make things far too easy. As much as I would have liked the opportunity to explore Port Blacksand, sandbox-style, the book does a decent job of giving you a few choices while keeping you on the right track.

The end game is much tougher than the rest of the book, the fight with the moon dogs being an obvious example. Up until this point you probably won't have encountered anything with a SKILL of more than 7 or 8, so a SKILL 11 mutt is a bit of a shock to the system. Surely this kind of fight could have been reserved for a final tussle with the boss's minions, before the confrontation with Zanbar Bone himself. Instead you are in the situation where, if you are able to even enter the tower, you are obviously more than capable of defeating any opponent in normal combat, so the skeletons, for instance, are a bit redundant. The tower itself is also a bit of a letdown, with a selection of red herrings and one door which must be entered before the final room.
Design: 3/5

Fairness:As far as combat goes, the book is fairly easy until you meet the moon dogs. If you play the rules as I did, with shiny shields and chainmail adding to your Attack Strength rather than your SKILL, it is a little less hard to swallow when the formidable doggies welcome you to Zanbar Bone's tower.

Most items you need are fairly straightforward to find, but as a wrong turn at a junction can cause you to miss one of two of them, it could be a little frustrating. On one occasion there is the opportunity to hear a fishwife's tale about a hag who lives in the sewers - unfortunately there is no indication of on which street the entrance to the sewers can be found, and in order to meet the fishwife you have to ignore advice you may have received about finding the silversmith by turning on to a different street (although you are forced to turn back on to the correct street anyway).

Within a few playthroughs, however, you will find yourself breezing through the city, and providing you rolled a decent SKILL, the endgame shouldn't be a problem either. Except for the final touch - the combination of ingredients required to kill Zanbar Bone. Whatever percentage chance you had of completing this adventure successfully before that buffoon Nicodemus sends you his apologetic note, well just go ahead and divide that by three. Git.
Fairness: 3/5

Cheating index: 0 Razaaks

Average enemy stats
Successful path
12 encounters, SKILL 6.8, STAMINA 6.3
Entire book
73 encounters, SKILL 6.7, STAMINA 6.1

Instant death paragraphs: 11

Any player can win no matter how weak initial dice rolls: Depending on how you apply SKILL/Attack Strength bonuses, this could be either TRUE or a LIE. A SKILL 7, STAMINA 14 adventurer applying bonuses to Attack Strength might just stand a chance against the moon dogs with a +1 shield and a +2 set of chainmail, but it's still pretty unlikely.

Final thoughts

This is one of the real classics - an old school adventure with no fancy extras, a great setting, and a lot to do. A couple of mechanics are too harsh towards the end, but the book is fun enough to warrant a few replays. Clearly Ian Livingstone thought it was far too easy, as he followed it up with Deathtrap Dungeon. And so will I...
Final score: 7/10


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Thursday, 9 August 2012

Dice roller

During a chat with Stuart Lloyd at the Blood of the Zombies book signing last weekend, the subject of dice rolling came up, and I mentioned that I use an Excel adventure sheet for all my playthroughs, with a built-in dice roller. He was curious about this, so I thought I'd upload the dice roller for anyone to use if they wish. It's not sophisticated, and it only rolls 2D6, but it's perfect for Fighting Fantasy. The following website came in very handy when creating this:

Download my dice roller here.

Monday, 6 August 2012

A pint with some bloke called Ian

So, this Saturday there was a book signing at Forbidden Planet in London. A new Fighting Fantasy book called Blood of the Zombies was being launched, and the author, Ian Livingstone, was coming to sign copies at 3pm. Having no idea as to how crowded it would be, I resolved to show up at least an hour early, and therefore arrived at Forbidden Planet at 2:20. This turned out to be good timing, however, as minutes later Ian arrived. It was still fairly quiet and no-one else was approaching him, so I wandered over and said hello. As he shook my hand I nervously gibbered something about being a lifelong fan, and he asked me what the first FF book I ever read was. I immediately reverted to the persona of the excited 11 year old I was when I first opened the pages of House of Hell, and enthused about how wonderful it was that FF was back on the shelves. He mentioned that he recently saw Steve Jackson and he was trying to get him on board for another gamebook project - maybe 'the 40th anniversary'! Eventually a member of staff showed up to save Ian and ushered him into a back room for pre-signing stuff.

A queue soon began to form, so I grabbed my copy of Blood of the Zombies and joined it, looking for familiar faces. Before long I spotted Stuart Lloyd joining in. By the time I reached the front of the queue I had composed myself enough to ask Ian a couple of questions about the new book, relating to the decision to do away with SKILL and LUCK. He replied that he had tweaked the combat system to make it quicker, because 'people don't have time for combat' any more. Personally I don't mind dice-rolling, but I understand the sentiment. He stated that BotZ is easier to play, but tougher to win. If it's tough than Trial of Champions it's going to be a very long blog entry when it comes to that particular playthrough...

After the signing I was able to have a chat with Stuart (@slloyd14), Jamie Fry ('The Warlock' - @fightingfantasy) and creator of Tin Man Games, Neil Rennison (@TinManGames). We headed to the pub for a quick drink, and were delighted when Ian joined us for a swift half. All in all it was a great afternoon!

I haven't had a chance to play Blood of the Zombies yet, but I doubt I'll have the willpower to wait until I get that far by playing the books in order...

Tuesday, 10 July 2012


I'm aware I haven't been the fastest blogger in the west lately, having been left in the dust by other newcomers to the Fighting Fantasy playthrough blog party. I've made a start on City of Thieves, and needless to say, the first attempt did not go well, and the second is barely under way.

I have an excuse for my ongoing slackitude, however - I'm getting married this weekend and the panic has well and truly set in. I'm sure I'll be more productive once things have calmed down again though, so watch this space...

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Turn to 400

If the pace at which I'm posting entries is too slow for you (and let's face it, half a monkey with half a typewriter could give me a run for my money) then some dude called Murray is doing something similar, with somewhat of a headstart. Also, he's funnier. His blog can be found here: Also, he plugged my blog, which makes him a top man in my book.

Also, skeletons.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Fighting Fantasy #4 - Starship Traveller

Title: Starship Traveller

Author: Steve Jackson

Illustrator: Peter Andrew Jones

Published: 1983

Level of previous knowledge: I remember the plot and the task of having to find certain co-ordinates/dates during the journey. I don’t remember any of the encounters along the way, or where any of the correct information might be found.

Plot summary: I’m the captain of a starship called Traveller, which is about to be sucked into a black hole and transported to a parallel universe. My task is simply (ha!) to find the way back to our own universe by visiting some alien planets and bothering their residents until they provide the information needed.

Rules: Lots of new stuff here. Firstly there are rules for ship-to-ship combat, which involves a series of tests (2D6 vs weapons strength or shields) and looks like it would be quite deadly. Then there’s phaser combat, which looks similar but even more deadly – one hit either stuns or kills the target. Hand-to-hand combat looks fairly normal except that there is no scope for using LUCK to increase or decrease damage. Speaking of LUCK, there are no rules for ‘Testing your LUCK’ as in other books. Combat is complicated by the fact that you are usually accompanied by two or three members of your starship crew, each of which have their own SKILL and STAMINA values, and fights independently.

Adventure Log:

Attempt #1

I won’t list the stats I rolled for all my staff, but suffice to say I wouldn’t want to spill my Security Officer’s pint…

So there we were, trekkin’ across the universe, when a great big black hole appeared out of nowhere and started sucking us in. My crew’s efforts to avoid this fate were unsuccessful and we were yanked violently through into a parallel universe.  My first thought was that we could be in an ‘alternate’ universe, and that I should try to find my evil twin, but sadly this opportunity never arose.

Approaching the nearest life-bearing planet, we decided to beam down right into the middle of the most heavily-populated city we could find. Crossing my fingers that there would be no accidents, I materialised on the planet’s surface with a few of my crew members, only to find that the middle of the most heavily populated city we could find was completely deserted. Entering the nearest building, we encountered a large group of aliens, but before we could open fire, one of them struck up a conversation with me and offered to show me round (fortunately my translator was programmed for whatever language the alien was speaking). Too polite to refuse, I opted for a general tour of the building,

As the alien showed me round the building I was struck by how ‘earthly’ everything seemed. He told me of their culture, and that they have no laws and no authority figures – everyone is free to do as they like. These people were obviously in need of a fascist dictator to help them through this difficult period. We then passed the ‘guard’ room, and he explained that guards do not guard things – they are basically violent psychopaths who attack people at random, but to give you a sporting chance they wear a guard’s uniform to warn you to be ‘on your guard’ when they’re around. Ahahaha. While I was mentally wrestling with the many logical gaps in his explanation, several of the psychopathic paragons of fairness crept up on us and attacked us from behind. A messy combat ensued but we were eventually victorious, courtesy mostly of my Security Officer’s l33t skillz.

My alien companion shrugged off the attack as if it were a perfectly normal occurrence. At this point I decided that this was a Stupid Planet and we should leave as soon as possible. I was reluctant to go, however, without first checking out the maps room. Unfortunately the only information found therein related to other planets in the same system, and there was nothing about any black holes. We then beamed up to the ship before the aliens decided that it might be a bit of a wheeze to remove our arms and legs and use us as bowling pins.

We headed to the next nearest planet, a large red one with signs of advanced civilisation. Beaming down, we once again found ourselves on a deserted street, but were soon greeted by an alien who materialised in front of us. We began to chat but one of my crew members was clearly bored by the conversation and shot the alien dead. He claimed that the alien was pointing a weapon at me – a detail which I had obviously missed. Confused, I had the alien beamed up to the ship for the Medical Officer to check over, but strangely the alien did not arrive.

We continued along the street, and suddenly I heard the sound of gunfire. Diving to the ground, I was baffled when my fellow crew members looked at me like I had showed up to a meeting of the Galactic Senate wearing a penguin costume. They were unhurt by the hail of bullets they were standing in, and I was either losing my marbles or something very odd was going on here.  Entering the nearest building, I fiddled around with a library computer for a bit in an attempt to find out why this was such a Stupid Planet. Fortunately one of my colleagues was doing something more useful by looking at astronomy files, and had found information regarding the location of a black hole. Noting down the sector number, we beamed back aboard the ship. Setting a course for a distant purple star, I was informed that the hallucinations were caused by a drug that had accidentally been released in the planet’s atmosphere, which probably explains why the inhabitants were conspicuous by their absence from the planet’s surface.

Beaming down on to another deserted street, I was told that the architecture was alien. Really? The street did not stay deserted for long, however; some kind of hover car was approaching. Then an insectoid alien called me over with some urgency to a small building, so I hustled over and followed him inside. He told me that the planet’s inhabitants are immortal, so PCs (Population Controllers) are employed to keep numbers under control (i.e. exterminate people for tiny infractions, or at random).  His timely intervention had saved me from an encounter with them; although temporarily, it transpired. Several PCs smashed through the door, ordered me outside and killed my alien companion with some kind of finger laser.

Co-operating with the PCs for the time being in the hope that they’d take me to meet someone of importance, I ended up in a queue in front of a doorway which looked suspiciously like the entrance to some kind of furnace. Fortunately at this point my Science Officer had a brainwave – he theorised that the aliens were in fact androids which could be affected by a jamming frequency. I like jamming too, so I set my communicator to the relevant frequency and all the aliens froze like statues. Escaping from our captors, we found our way to the transmission room with remarkable precision. A quick fiddle with the controls later and we were beamed back to our ship, along with a helmet I acquired from one of the aliens, which turned out to be some kind of cybernetic skill-enhancing thingy.

The next planet we came across exhibited signs of intelligent life, so we beamed down to the surface. This time we materialised not in a deserted street but outside a village, in front of some of the locals. Taking the diplomatic approach, I was able to persuade the spear-wielding aliens to take me to the village elder. He was a friendly enough chap, and told me that their race was being punished with bad weather by someone called the Rain Lord who was controlling the climate from a nearby castle. This was causing a certain amount of disease, so my Medical Officer prescribed some drugs for them, coming dangerously close to falling ill herself. We then agreed to go and talk to the Rain Lord on their behalf, mostly because I was curious about the idea of weather control. Approaching the castle in a friendly manner, we surrendered ourselves to the guards, who escorted us inside, leaving us with a small man who called himself Bran-Sel. It turned out that he did indeed possess equipment that could control the weather, but it had malfunctioned. I called my Science Officer in, and he was very quickly able to fix the problem, returning the weather to normal. The Rain Lord rewarded us with some information about the speed required to travel through a black hole. Hoping this would be useful, we beamed back aboard the ship.

Investigating another nearby planet, we found nothing but a small crashed aircraft, with no signs of life. Recalling the investigating crew members to the ship, I was soon counting myself fortunate not to be one of the landing party, as several of them dropped dead upon their return. I immediately ordered the landing party quarantined, but then several engineers also died suddenly. Fortunately my Science Officer had the common sense to suggest that we seal off the docking bay, and this halted the spread of the poison. My Medical Officer then came up with an antidote which worked successfully (at this point the successful SKILL check led to a failure, so I assumed this was an error and went to the other paragraph).

Wishing that we had some kind of planet-killing weapon on board, we left orbit and considered our next direction. A fast-moving ship came within range, and soon we made contact with the commander, a representative of the Imperial Ganzig Federation. I was apparently now his prisoner, and complied with his command to accompany him to a starbase. After some waiting it became clear that we had been cleared or forgotten about, so I decided to explore a bit. I approached a friendly-looking service robot and asked it to lead me to someone of authority, which it did without fuss. I found myself waiting awkwardly while a grossly large-headed alien had a brief nap and awoke to give me a stardate at which we should attempt to enter a black hole, but added that we’d have no way to tell which one. Hurrah? I wasn’t sure I trusted him anyway – he looked a bit suspicious.

Upon leaving the planet the book asked if I thought I had learned the time and space co-ordinates of the black hole that would take us home. I didn’t really have anything that looked like co-ordinates, but  I used the information I had to make a guess, and we headed into a black hole. Sadly we never emerged. Among other things I was told that maybe our speed was a problem, which irked me somewhat – I actually had some information about the speed at which we should have entered the black hole, but was never asked for it! Bah.

Conclusion: Failure. I can only assume that I was fed the wrong information. I knew I should never have trusted that big-headed alien.

Number of combats: 3

Attempt #2

Mediocre stats all round for the crew this time, except for my Science Officer who was very handy with a scalpel…

Sooo, sucked through black hole, etc etc. My first encounter was with a familiar-looking ship belonging to a commander of the Imperial Ganzig Confederation. Remembering that they had proved officious but harmless on our previous meeting, I decided to be as friendly as possible. My resolve was tested, however, when my brief hesitation was rewarded with a glancing shot which damaged my ship’s shields. Muttering under my breath, I allowed their officer to come aboard. I even took him to the computer room as he requested. He took this opportunity to insert something into the computer which read the memory and transmitted it back to the alien ship. Ahh, USB – truly a universal standard. My ship would now be at a disadvantage if It ever entered into combat with Ganzigites. By this point I was becoming rather annoyed, in quite an English way (“I’ll be writing a stern letter to the Confederation!”). Eventually I was allowed to meet with the High Commander, who was a friendly enough fellow, but provided me with no useful information (suggesting that I explore the galaxy for clues does not qualify as ‘useful’) and then fiddled with my ship’s computer to prevent me ever firing on Ganzigite ships at all, before sending me on my way. Stupid Ganzigites.

Heading to a dull blue planet, we beamed down on to a deserted street... uh-oh. A very familiar deserted street. I couldn’t remember learning anything here last time, so I thought I’d try some different options. Entering a nearby building, I was greeted by a very alien-looking alien, which bellowed at my approach. However he soon calmed down, we had a nice chat, and I was on my way again. Meeting the aliens in the main building at the end of the street, I declined the ‘general tour’ which resulted in an unseemly fracas last time, and headed straight for the travel and maps room, where once again we learned nothing of use. Returning to the Traveller, I left a note floating in space, just in front of the ship’s viewport, saying “Stupid Planet – do not visit” for the benefit of our future incarnations.

At this point we had the option to visit the red planet where I was fairly sure we found some information – as there was no alternative other than ignoring it and moving on I thought we might as well. We beaming down on to the deserted street, greeted the suddenly-appearing alien, killed the suddenly-appearing alien and continued on. This time ignoring the building where we found the (potentially faulty) information last time, we continued on to another, larger construction. Inside we found a strange, diseased-looking fellow with a VDU, who bravely helped us discover a Stardate at which a black hole would be open. Hopefully this nugget of information would not be bogus!
Back on the ship, we headed towards a small star cluster, but ended up in the midst of a meteor storm. Raising the ship’s shields, we made it through with only a scratch. The next crisis took the form of a freezer malfunction. Apparently the loss of one of our freezers had reduced us to 48 hours’ worth of supplies. If we had many freezers, why were we travelling in deep space with so few provisions and not particularly concerned? If we only had a couple of freezers, why did we only have a couple of freezers?  In space, no-one can hear you apply logic. My new mission was clear – find supplies for the crew by searching the galaxy for clues as to where information might be found that will lead us to people who will be able to give us the exact co-ordinates of the galaxy in which we will find a planet upon which we can build a civilisation that will evolve to the point that we can manufacture probes that will scour the universe for a book called ‘How to Cook For Humans’.

Alternatively, we could check that planet over there. No, not the blue one, it’s completely covered in water and we’d probably drown if we beamed down there. Ahahaha. Wouldn’t that be silly?

Beaming down on to the green planet with two officers, we found ourselves in a dense jungle. Something was crashing through the undergrowth towards us, so naturally we hid ourselves in the shadows. Unfortunately the shadows also contained a horrible beast, which promptly stomped on my Security Officer, crushing him to death. As I span around, another leg came down, there was the horrifying sound of a pair of glasses snapping, and my Science Officer joined his colleague in Flatsville. Slightly put out by this turn of events, I drew my phaser and aimed at the creature. It decided I didn’t look very tasty and wandered off. I took the opportunity to hack down some edible-looking plants to replenish supplies on the ship (let’s see… a few months worth of food for a crew of 500 or so… could be here a while…) However the plants took exception to this idea, and started to defend themselves. I stopped hacking at them to show them I meant no (further) harm, but this failed to placate them and they throttled the life out of me. Still, one less mouth to feed, eh?

Conclusion: Failure. Om nom nom.

Number of combats: 0

Attempt #3

Good stats for most of the crew, too. Let’s hope they get more of an outing this time…

Once again finding ourselves in an alien universe, we plotted a different course to last time, heading towards a nearby barren system. We had not travelled far, however, before my Engineering Officer informed me that our passage through the black hole had damaged our reactor, resulting in a serious fuel shortage (why this damage never occurred on previous attempts remains a mystery). In search of the precious ore I sensibly decided to investigate a nearby asteroid cluster. Some ore was present but it would require me to send one of my men out into the whirling mass with a jet pack. Not just any man, however – for some reason I was forced to send one of my officers.

My Science Officer kindly volunteered for the task, donned his jet pack and passed through the air lock. Making his way to one of the asteroids, he successfully managed to gather some ore and began to make his way back to the ship. My sense of triumph did not last long, however – a rapidly-moving asteroid appeared from nowhere and crashed into my hapless officer, destroying his suit and making a bit of a mess. One officer down, I did the only sensible thing and send my Security Officer out there. Despite the previous asteroid presumably still containing plenty of ore, we had a bad feeling about it (certain death tends to have this effect on people) and chose a different one. My officer landed successfully, but while collecting the ore another giant rock was just passing by and… wham! My Security Officer was vaporised. Contemplating a wonderful start to our voyage, I was now determined to persevere, and sent my reluctant Engineering Officer to make another attempt. Picking a different asteroid, he managed to harvest some ore, but not enough to refuel the ship. He moved on to the next, collected some more, headed back to the ship and… wham! He punched me on the back of the head as he re-entered the ship. Soon we were on our way again.

We approached a lifeless-looking planet and considered our options. Suddenly a small ship appeared and took a pot-shot at us. Attempts at communication failed and I was forced to issue the command to engage in battle. The enemy ship was a nimble opponent and we took some damage during the fight, but emerged triumphant. We then beamed down to the planet, which seemed as deserted as it first appeared. One of my crew members decided to drink the water, which I was dubious about but too late to prevent. We then decided that this was a Boring Planet and beamed back up to the ship.

Perhaps predictably, drinking the water had dangerous consequences. En route to our next destination, I was called to the canteen to deal with a disturbance. The drinker had gone slightly mental and attacked fellow crew members. After an almighty struggle we managed to sedate him and my Medical Officer came up with an effective cure. The crew member later woke up with a rotten headache and a faint uneasy feeling.

Heading for a nearby star, we entered the orbit of a planet containing intelligent life, and made contact with an extremely friendly alien who invited me to come down for a chat. I accepted the offer and upon arrival asked to be shown to the Department of Astronomy, agreeing to leave my weapon behind when requested. Unfortunately the friendly welcome ended there – a blow to the back of my head rendered my insensible long enough for the aliens to strap me into a large chair and begin the process of cloning me. Their plan was to use a replica of me to persuade my crew to abandon my ship to the aliens. Fortunately I was cunning enough to fix in my mind the concept that the replica would mention a certain planet, and not be able to lie when asked a question. The mention of the planet made my Science Officer suspicious, so when the replica gave the order, he responded by questioning it, and the plot was uncovered. Under threat of attack from my ship’s phasers, the aliens agreed to let me go – sadly with no useful information whatsoever.

Ignoring a familiar, useless planet nearby, we entered the orbit of another equally familiar, useless planet, leaving again as soon as the opportunity arose. Given the choice between a couple more familiar, useless destinations, I chose to investigate a familiar, useless grey planet and then de-investigate as soon as I could. Despite the prompt retreat from the infected place, I still managed to lose some engineering staff who investigated too enthusiastically. I ordered the docking bay sealed off and evacuated the air, which solved the problem and we were soon on our way again.

Finally offered the chance to visit somewhere new, we approached a blue planet and made contact with a member of its alien government. He invited me to beam down and chat, but I would have to come alone. I was highly suspicious of this, wondering what kind of bizarre experiment I would be forced to endure this time, but I wasn’t going to find the information I needed by turning down such invitations. Greeting the official in his office, I was soon offered food and drink, and was too polite to refuse. Of course, the food was drugged (a blow to the back of the head would have been more efficient, if less civilised) and I woke up in some kind of laboratory where I was unceremoniously shoved through a portal into another dimension. A dimension that seemed to contain nothing but a series of twisting pathways through empty space. After wandering aimlessly for some time, I was eventually offered the chance to step off the end of a dead end path into the void. I did so without a second thought (I was really bored by this point) and found myself back in the lab. The aliens were pleased with the success of their experiment, and furnished me with the location of a black hole which may be a portal back to my own universe. I then beamed back up to the ship before they developed an interest in human biology.

The next planet was volcanic and devoid of life, so naturally I decided it would be a grand idea to check it out in detail. We made our way to the place that was clearly most likely to provide us with information regarding our route home – the crater of a raging volcano. Disappointed that the stardate required was not inscribed on a nearby rock, we edged closer to the edge, peering down into the molten lava in search of clues. Briefly pondering a quick sacrifice to the god of Google Maps (Space Edition), I stealthily edged up behind my Security Officer. Unfortunately I tripped over a rock, had a small panic attack and decided to beam everyone back up to the ship.

The next point of interest was a spaceport where we prepared to dock for repairs. However, we received a confused message warning us not to dock. I decided to risk it as our shields were fairly damaged, and I was still in dire need of information. Upon docking we were able to get the ship repaired but were informed that we were exposed to an infection that was spreading throughout the spaceport. We hurriedly retreated to the ship, and fortunately none of the crew were affected. For a change.

We then approached a planet called Malini, which we were invited to visit by an alien who suggested that we may be interested in attending a sporting event known as the Contests. The co-ordinates he gave me were unclear, however, so I had to guess at a few of the numbers. We beamed down and I immediately suspected I had chosen wrongly when a siren sounded and armed aliens surrounded us on all sides. Remaining calm, I allowed us to be escorted to a detention room, where I attempted to persuade the supervisor of our plight. Despite putting forward what I believed a good case, he found my story highly implausible. We were then escorted to another room and I realised that we were to be entered into the Contests. Emerging into a large arena, we were forced to fight a heavily armed robot . None of us were unscathed but we emerged victorious. When we were congratulated by an official I merely had to mention our mission and he instantly agreed to help us – clearly something about my prowess in battle made me more convincing. He led us to his headquarters, where he gave us the details of a sector which contained what he believed to be the black hole we were looking for. Unfortunately this information was contradictory to that provided by the previous helpful aliens, which would leave me at best a 50/50 chance of success later on.

Returning to the ship, we plotted our next course. Ignoring a wheel-shaped structure that smelled distinctly of Ganzigite, we beamed down on to a lifeless-looking planet. My Engineering Officer took an interest in some nearby rocks while I had a brief look around and decided it was a Boring Planet. Upon trying to contact the ship, however, I discovered that my signal was being jammed by the magnetic rocks all around us. I was then helpfully informed that I had only beamed down to the surface with enough oxygen to survive for 20 minutes. At this point I succeeded at another SKILL roll only to be told that I couldn’t think of a solution to the problem and that our journey was over. Assuming this to be an error (this book seems to be riddled with them) I turned to the paragraph where I had the clever idea of heating up a couple of rocks with my phaser. Clearly this was some kind of code I was unaware of, as the crew aboard the ship immediately beamed us back to the Traveller.

Heading towards a nearby life-bearing planet, we were invited to visit by a bony alien called Luff. We materialised on some kind of island floating above the planet, where we saw a group of aliens and a couple of children. Unsure as to which of these aliens was Luff, I was bemused when one of the children took my hand and led me into a building. Here I was introduced to Luff, who himself was a child (you’d think I would have noticed that earlier). He explained that members of their race were born with high intelligence that deteriorated during their lifetime. Taking him up on his offer to help us find a way home, I was pleased when he gave us a date at which our universe would coincide with this one. In return I allowed him to have a look at our ship’s weapon systems. After all, he was only a kid – what danger could he cause us? After giving them a quick tour we were allowed to go on our way.

A hyperspace jump later and it was time to make a fateful decision. The information I had gathered regarding the black hole that would take us home consisted of a stardate and two possible sectors. Which was the correct one, if either? Which race of aliens did I trust the most – the ones who forced me to take part in a dangerous inter-dimensional experiment or the ones who put me into combat with a psychotic robot?

In the end I chose the former – they at least were intelligent enough to explore other dimensions, whereas the other race was a bunch of idiots whose man-slaying robot spectacularly failed to live up to its name. We set a course for the black hole and strapped ourselves in, losing consciousness as we were sucked into the void. Remarkably, my guess was correct and we woke to find ourselves back in our own universe. Whether we still had enough fuel to make it back to civilisation was left a mystery…

Conclusion: Success!


Writing: This book was a bit of an opportunity for the writer to really cut loose and be creative. After all, it’s set in another universe full of alien landscapes, fantastic creatures and bizarre societies. Sadly very little of this came through in the writing. Descriptions are hurried and you never spend long enough on any one planet to get a real feel for the societies in which you find yourself getting involved. Most planetary visits follow the same pattern – beam down, meet some aliens, get into some kind of trouble, escape from the trouble and possibly, incidentally discover one of the pieces of information you need to get home. It feels a bit like the writer has attempted to cram too many isolated stories (each of which is like an episode of Star Trek) into a puzzlingly shortened book, and ends up barely scratching the surface of each. There was potential here, but mostly unrealised.
Writing: 2/5

Artwork: Obviously they went for a simplistic, futuristic style here, but it doesn’t work well at all. The illustrations are very dull and fail to inspire any imaginings of alien worlds and an epic space journey. None of them are detailed enough to fill in the gaps left by the narrative, and a couple of them look like they could have been drawn by small children.
Artwork: 1/5

Design: During the adventure I found myself constantly frustrated that I couldn’t go back and check out X planet that was mentioned a few moments ago because I chose to do something else first. I understand that this book was written in a linear fashion so there would be no possibility of confusion, but I can’t help but feel that it would have worked a lot better with a ‘sandbox’ approach. You could jump from system to system and visit planets as you wished, but there would be a time limit (perhaps imposed by diminishing fuel/food) to prevent you from simply visiting every single planet. Unfortunately the way it was written means that a single wrong decision about which planet to aim for early on can guarantee that you’ll miss one which is essential to your success.

It’s also a bit of a shame that once you know which planets you need to visit, the journey is pathetically simple, ensuring there is no replay value whatsoever. In fact it’s possible to complete the entire adventure without rolling a single die, by ignoring all the planets except the important ones – which don’t require any combat, or tests of skill.
Design: 1/5

Fairness: There aren’t many combats in this book, and as die rolling is completely avoidable on the correct path (although unlikely on a first play through) it is possible to succeed regardless of your initial statistics. There are quite a few instant death paragraphs but I only saw one which was really unfair – the inter-dimensional maze you must negotiate before receiving a vital piece of information has two exits, one of which leads to instant death – and there’s no narrative reason to choose one over the other.
Fairness: 4/5

Cheating index: At this point I will admit to a minor infraction of the rules – when I realised that a certain direction had taken me towards a route I had explored on a previous attempt, I went back and took the other option. It must be said that the nature of the book encourages this kind of behaviour.  After the first few attempts it’s purely a case of re-visiting the same uninteresting encounters time and time again, in different combinations. I was lucky enough as it was – I passed at least two 50/50 decisions which could have led to failure.

1 Razaak

Average enemy stats

Successful path

Hand-to-hand combat: 1 encounter, SKILL 10, STAMINA 4

Ship-to-ship combat: 1 encounter, WEAPONS STENGTH 8, SHIELDS 7

Entire book

Hand-to-hand combat: 23 encounters, SKILL 7.7, STAMINA 9.1

Phaser combat: 14 encounters, SKILL 7.0

Ship-to-ship combat: 4 encounters, WEAPONS STRENGTH 8.3, SHIELDS 10.8

Instant death paragraphs: 13

Any player can win no matter how weak initial dice rolls –during the adventure die rolls can be avoided altogether if you know what you’re doing, TRUE

Final thoughts

A good premise let down by lazy writing and poor design. Success on the first attempt is extremely unlikely and subsequent playthroughs are repetitive and dull. This will take some beating in the ‘least favourite FF’ category…
Final score: 1/10