Friday, 20 April 2012

Lloyd of Gamebooks

In a slight departure from my usual kind of posts (if I can claim to have a 'usual kind of post' after only three of them) I thought I'd give a quick mention to another gamebook blogger called Stuart Lloyd. Despite already being a rather prolific blogger he decided that he'd do something called the 'April A to Z' and make one post (or several!) every day of the month. This involved interviewing everyone involved in the gamebook hobby that he could get his hands on, which has led to a bucketload of extremely interesting insights from major players in the industry and hobbyists alike.

(This is of course nothing at all to do with the fact that my interview was posted today...)

Visit his blog here:

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Fighting Fantasy #3 - The Forest of Doom

Forest of Doom cover
Title: The Forest of Doom

Author: Ian Livingstone

Illustrator: Malcolm Barter

Published: 1983

Level of previous knowledge: Quite low for this one. I remember the quest items and that one of them was in a tomb of some kind, but almost nothing else. Except there’s a forest.

Plot summary: The plot is a bit thin, to be honest. I’m an apparently bloodthirsty adventurer, interested in nothing more than battle and wealth. A dying dwarf passes his quest on to me – to fetch an ancient hammer which, for some reason, is hidden somewhere in Darkwood Forest, and return it to Gillibran, the Lord of Stonebridge. Sure, why not?

Rules: Standard rules – nothing fancy here.  

Adventure Log:

Attempt #1
Stats rolled: SKILL 11, STAMINA 16, LUCK 10

Nice stats, so I didn’t anticipate any STAMINA problems. I chose to start with the Potion of Luck, just in case.

So off I went, taking my newly-acquired gold to Yaztromo’s tower, in search of magical items to protect me against the creatures of the forest. Being a seasoned adventurer I was somewhat sceptical as to whether I needed such assistance, but it couldn’t hurt to look. Upon arrival I was greeted by the grumpy wizard and followed him inside, resisting the immediate urge to attack him and steal all his stuff (a seasoned adventurer knows that this almost never works).

I purchased the following items: Potion of Healing, Potion of Stillness, Potion of Anti-Poison, Holy Water, Ring of Light, Boots of Leaping, Net of Entanglement, Armband of Strength, Glove of Missile Dexterity, Headband of Concentration, Nose Filters.

Yaztromo then supplied some further information regarding my quest. Apparently the hammer I’m looking for was dropped into the forest and found by two goblins, who went their separate ways, each with a separate part of the hammer. Why they did this, or who witnessed the event, is a mystery.

Taking my leave of the crotchety wizard, I marched into the forest and was presented with several directional choices with no indication of what might lay down each path. Choosing at random, I walked for a while before finding a wooden hut in a small clearing. I was already bored by this point, so I peered through the window in a perfectly innocent manner. Inside I saw an old woman being attended by a hunchbacked servant. Assuming her to be some kind of evil witch (good guys tend not to employ hunchbacks) I entered the hut with the intention of teaching her a lesson, or at least stealing all her stuff. I’m not completely unmerciful, however, and first attempted to engage her in conversation, to give her a chance to atone for all her evil deeds. She seemed to find this amusing, and laughed at me while the book informed me that ‘she is an evil woman’ and deducted a LUCK point. Somewhat confused by this (maybe her laugh put some kind of curse on me?) I drew my sword and she reacted by pulling some flowers out of a drawer and rubbing petals on her hands. Like any good, seasoned adventurer, I thought “Let’s just see where she’s going with this…” and procrastinated while the room filled with an odd smell and my vision started to swim. Fortunately my Headband of Concentration saved me from a fragrant death, and I recovered my wits in time to avoid a chair shot from the hunchbacked minion. Sadly the witch turned into a bat and escaped, so I was left alone with the now sobbing creature while I searched the hut for anything of value. A rummage through the books turned up a necklace called the Eye of Amber along with a parchment suggesting that the item could be used to force someone to tell nothing but the truth. 

Pushing on through the forest, I noticed a large hole in a tree on the side of the path. Of course, I couldn’t possibly pass by without reaching in for a feel around. I was rewarded with a bite on the arm from some unidentified critter and a bronze helmet, which turned out to be magical. Why such an object was left in a tree trunk for anyone to find I’ve no idea, but I’m sure the story would be a fascinating one.

Coming to another junction, I chose a direction again at random, before arriving at another where I was informed that I decided to ignore one of the paths and head north instead. On the side of the path I saw an old oak chair upon which I was offered the opportunity to sit – I could imagine no benefit to doing so, however, so I passed by without a second glance. Before long my peaceful walk was rudely interrupted by an unfriendly boar which helpfully ran into my sword and collapsed in a heap. Denied the opportunity to make bacon sandwiches, I stole its nose ring and continued on my way.

Again deciding to ignore a perfectly viable path, I was herded northwards again. I came across a well-muscled man who was staked out in the sun with vultures circling overhead. I was given the option of freeing him or ignoring him, and not the options I would have been more likely to choose, such as talking to him or putting him out of his misery. Against my better judgement I freed him, and was rewarded for this service when the barbarian attacked me with a wooden stake. He was a remarkably good fighter considering his condition, but I slew him without much trouble.

Coming to a shallow river, I chose to wade across rather than trust the stepping stones. This decision backfired, however, when an eel started nipping at my leg. Again I defeated my mighty adversary without injury and clambered out of the river, then set up camp for the night. My sleep was interrupted by three vampire bats, which too met their doom at the blade of my sword. Feeling quite invincible by this point, I continued my journey the next morning with optimism. Unfortunately this didn’t last, as after a couple of turnings I blundered straight into a pit trap. I avoided serious injury though, and I had my Boots of Leaping handy, so escaping the pit was simplicity itself.

Soon I found a rock with a sword sticking out of it. Mighty warrior that I was, I couldn’t resist the urge to give it a quick tug, and would you believe it, it turned out that I was the one the sword had been waiting for. At this point I was fairly happy about the new gear I had acquired so far on this trip, but was becoming slightly concerned that I had found no sign of either of the pieces of the hammer I was looking for. Passing up the opportunity to dive into a pool of mud (doing something like this in a place nicknamed ‘The Forest of Doom’ didn’t seem like the smartest idea), I was then attacked by a pterodactyl. My shiny new sword made short work of the random dinosaur. After congratulating myself on another peerless display of combat skills, I spotted a yellow arrow painted on the grass. Shrugging my shoulders, I followed it in the hope that it might lead me to some clue as to the whereabouts of the hammer parts (I was aware that this was highly unlikely, but nothing much made sense around here anyway).

I was disappointed to arrive at a dead tree trunk, but apparently believing this one to be more interesting than the thousands of others around me, I examined it more closely. Aided by the Ring of Light I looked inside and noticed that it seemed to lead to a tunnel under the ground. Taking leave of my senses, I jumped down and duly broke my leg. Pondering the lack of STAMINA loss, I drank the Potion of Healing I had been saving for this kind of occasion and my leg mended itself. Crawling along the tunnel, I eventually came to a slimy cavern populated by a race of alien-looking humanoids, tending to coloured fungi. At this point I was offered the chance to attack one of the vacant-eyed creatures (seemingly a bad idea when there were so many of them), chop down some fungi (I’m no botanist, but I was sure nothing good could come from that), or asking to eat some of the fungi. What I was not offered was the opportunity to ignore everything and leave via the stairs. Choosing what I hoped was the lesser of several evils, I chopped at a nearby fungus, choked on the expected cloud of spores, and was then informed that there was no point staying here any longer. Le sigh.

Climbing the stairs, I found a shield in a barrel and some gold in a chest, before entering an alcove to find more of the strange pale-skinned humanoids. These ones, however, were aggressive and I was forced to reduce them to puddles of coloured liquid. Continuing up the stairs, I encountered an extremely scary-looking Fire Demon and was once again forced to fight. For the first time, I was actually wounded in combat, but eventually the demon was a smouldering heap on the floor and the clone warriors were kneeling before me in supplication. Refusing the options to wear the demon’s crown or sit on his throne, I ascended the steps and found myself outside again. This time I was convinced that I’d missed something important here, but the only way was onwards.

Next I came to a small stone building. Investigating, I found a locked door which I attempted to charge down. Unfortunately I bounced off the door and, fragile weakling that I am, was too tired to muster a second attempt. Reluctantly, convinced that I’d missed something important (again), I continued through the forest. Entering a small clearing, I realised I was now in the lair of something large and scary, so naturally I stopped to search for shinies. The large and scary wyvern swept down and attempted to start a barbeque, but was briefly disappointed as I hacked it to bits. Finding two items of note in its nest – a gauntlet and a ring - I decided to avoid the obvious 50/50 chance of Bad Stuff happening and pushed on.

Further down the path I was accosted by a group of bandits, who demanded five items from my backpack. With shiny new sword, shiny new helmet and shiny new shield, I felt pretty good about my chances in combat so I refused their kind offer. They had no more luck than the other denizens of the forest however, and their bodies were left as fertiliser, minus the meagre sum of two gold pieces.

I was less than ecstatic to emerge from the forest not long after, knowing that I had arrived at my destination without either part of the hammer. Unable to face the king of the dwarves (although I assume he wasn’t expecting me and might have appreciated hearing the news of what happened to the party who went looking for the hammer) I decided to walk back around the edge of the woods to start all over again. Obviously it’s a one-way forest. Unfortunately on the way I was attacked by wild hill men and my arrow-peppered corpse was left for the crows.

Conclusion:  Failure. Despite being virtually superhuman compared to most of the evils of the forest, I found no sign whatsoever of either part of the fabled hammer. Now I wish I’d kept a map…

Number of combats: 18

Attempt #2
Stats rolled: SKILL 8, STAMINA 20, LUCK 11

OK, this should be more challenging. I know a certain fire demon I’ll be avoiding this time…

My shopping list this time consisted of: Potion of Healing, Potion of Plant Control, Potion of Stillness, Potion of Insect Control, Potion of Stillness, Holy Water, Boots of Leaping, Net of Entanglement, Armband of Strength, Garlic Buds, Fire Capsules, and Nose Filters.

Taking a slightly different route to last time, I soon heard a cry for help from somewhere off the path. Investigating, I found a man dressed in dark robes and a mask, who had apparently got himself caught in a bear trap. Helping him out (well, what I could see of his face was trustworthy) we had a brief chat and he wandered off in search of his brother. Only then did I notice that he’d made off with all 1 of my gold pieces!

My next encounter was a small goblin sitting at the roadside. Confident that I could handle the situation if he became hostile, I attempted to question him. Unfortunately this seemed to upset him, and he metamorphosed into a large spiky shapechanger. Sadly he did not give me a chance to placate or trick him; the ensuing combat did not go well for me, and my second attempt ended under his raking claws.

Conclusion:  Failure. Of the abject variety. My poor SKILL score made this kind of ending inevitable I guess. I obviously hadn’t learned my lesson from the first attempt – trying to be nice to anyone in the Forest of Doom is a daft idea…

Number of combats: 1

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

Much better. Maybe I’ll go back and teach that shapechanger a lesson…

As I barely had a chance to get started last time, I chose the same items from Yaztromo’s selection: Potion of Healing, Potion of Plant Control, Potion of Stillness, Potion of Insect Control, Potion of Stillness, Holy Water, Boots of Leaping, Net of Entanglement, Armband of Strength, Garlic Buds, Fire Capsules, and Nose Filters.

My first encounter was with a talking crow. Being a bird lover, I stopped for a chat and then paid a gold piece for its advice. When I mentioned the goblins I was looking for, it directed me northwards. Deciding to take the crow’s word for it (crows are good omens, right?), I continued in the direction indicated. Soon I heard voices up ahead. Wondering if it could really be this easy to find the hammer-stealing goblins, I drew my sword and waited. Sadly the creatures that showed up were hobgoblins, and a search of their corpses yielded a meagre amount of gold, some maggot-infested biscuits, a flute and a necklace made from mouse skulls. Obviously these items would be vital to my quest, so I gathered them up and stored them in my pack.

Soon afterwards I noticed a large hole by the side of the path, and was warned that ‘some huge creature’ had left a load of slime all over the place. Taking leave of my senses entirely, I made my way down to the bottom and landed carefully on my backside. The resident Sting Worm took exception to my visit, however (those bones over there obviously belonged to travelling salesmen), and I was forced to defend myself. I took a nasty beating but eventually prevailed, helping myself to some more gold pieces and a potion of some kind. Trusting that the potion would be my reward for overcoming a tough monster, I quickly gulped it down (sipping is for sissies). I was pleased to discover that it was a Potion of Weapon Skill, which would last for the next two combats. Wondering if I could avoid any more combats between now and the potential fire demon/wyvern up ahead, I clambered out of the slimy lair and continued on.

The next point of interest along the path was a cave, occupied by an ogre and a small, caged creature.  Considering my options, I decided that the sensible thing to do was to throw a rock at the ogre (What? I don’t like ogres). Of course I missed by a mile, and therefore decided to dash headlong into the cave instead. Slaying the ogre was a straightforward task. As I looked around the cave, the caged creature seemed to become agitated, so I looked closer and realised he was a goblin, with a shiny rod hanging around his neck. Promising! Freeing the goblin from his prison (sadly there was no option to shiv him where he stood), I was unsurprised when the little wretch tried to kill me. He failed, of course, and I was rewarded with the handle of the dwarfish warhammer. Now I was getting somewhere! I also found a silver box which emitted noxious fumes upon opening – however rather than simply run out of the cave I decided to stay put, fumble in my pack for my Nose Filters, insert them into my nostrils, wait around for a while until the fumes dissipated, and then leave the cave.

Ape Man
Not far down the path, I walked straight into a trap and ended up hanging by my foot from a tree. Fortunately I was able to cut myself free and continued on my way. I then climbed up to a tree house and met its owner, an angry, bone-wielding ape man. Drawing my sword, I struggled to fight effectively up in the branches, and only managed to dispatch the creature after taking a few wounds myself. Finding nothing but a copper bracelet in the house, I left it be (just look at the state of its previous owner) and climbed back down to the path.

The next attempt on my life came from two pygmies who fired darts at me from blowpipes. They missed, and I couldn’t be bothered chasing them off into whatever traps they hoped to lead me into, so I continued onwards. Next was a swarm of killer bees, which were repelled by the handy Potion of Insect Control I kept for such an occasion (sadly its effects did not extend to being able to command the bees to fetch the hammer for me, or form a frightening travelling companion).

I soon came to a river, and chose to use the rickety old bridge rather than wading through the unknown horrors of the water. Surprisingly there was no hint of the bridge collapsing – not so much as an ominous creak – and I made it across safely. Setting down for the night, I was awoken by the howl of wolves and was forced to slay three of them. Happily I suffered no further ill effects from the wounds I sustained and went back to sleep.

The next day I came across a fully furnished, but empty, hut. Wondering at how this isolated pocket of civilisation came to exist within the deadly Forest of Doom, I thought I’d investigate – and by investigate I mean loot whatever I could. Lifting a heavy chest, I was able to smash it on the floor, to discover a large blue egg of some kind. The egg then exploded, injuring me badly. Rather than stay in the hut and rest for a while, I decided to immediately limp northwards along the path. Reaching an area with large boulders scattered around the path, I was alarmed to see one of them rocking from side to side. Deciding against further investigation this time, I hurried past. Further down the path, a tiny grey cloud appeared out of nowhere and zapped me with lightning. O_o

Continuing on, I arrived at a familiar stone building. Once again lacking the key, I was forced to attempt to break it down again. This time I was successful, and I descended the steps within, lit a conveniently-placed candle, and found myself in a room which could only be described as a crypt. Annoyingly I was out of luck again, however, as I required Dust of Levitation to lift the stone slab. Anything hidden behind two obstacles (the door and the slab) such as this could only be important, and given the lack of any way to head back through the forest to try and find the elusive item, I briefly considered giving up there and then. In the end I decided to continue on, with the intention of using the ‘go back to the other end of the forest and start again’ option so beloved of many previous adventurers.

So on I went, not bothering with the wyvern’s lair and giving the bandits some gold to shut them up. I walked into the middle of Stonebridge, immediately wondered why I had bothered doing do without the quest items required, and wandered off again. This time I survived the trip back around the forest, and eventually found myself back at Yaztromo’s tower.   

Strangely the wizard did not recognise me, and I had to explain myself all over again. I bought a potion of anti-poison with the meagre funds I had remaining, and departed for the forest once more. Heading westwards, I ignored the yells from the trapped thief and made a beeline for the friendly shapechanger. I immediately drew my sword and was able to avenge my former self, but not without taking a few wounds in the process. Sadly he had no possessions to speak of. I refused the opportunity to eat some mushrooms I found nearby, doubting that they contained any Dust of Levitation.

Strong(ish) man
Moving on, I ignored the chair of probable death and casually dispatched an unfriendly wild boar. Eventually I arrived at a hut, inside which I met a delusional, muscle-bound fellow who claimed that he made a living by arm wrestling. Where he found his opponents in this place, I had no idea – maybe goblins are even stupider than they look. Slipping my Armband of Strength on, I defeated him easily, and won my prize – a phial containing Dust of Levitation. Finally my goal was in sight!

Onwards I went, waving cheerfully to the ungrateful barbarian as the vultures ate his eyeballs, and crossed the river, again choosing the path of least getting-wet-ness. As was traditional by this point, I was rudely awoken from my slumber in the middle of the night. Fortunately the garlic buds I was carrying were enough to repel the vampire bats and I slept soundly, not to mention bravely, for the rest of the night.

The next morning I was minding my own business, wending my way down a rocky path, when a couple of scruffy, beardy blokes leapt out from behind a boulder and stuck an arrow in me. Incensed, I chopped them into small pieces, and looted a silver key from the remains. Later in the day, a gnome offered me some information in exchange for some treasure. I forked over the wild boar’s nose ring, and he told me what I already knew – that there was a crypt nearby containing a skeleton. Glad that I was apparently on the right path, I continued on my way.

I soon came across yet another hut (this was an incredibly civilised Forest of Doom) where I sensibly decided to grab a mysterious vase containing an ‘eerie blackness’ and give it a good shake. When this produced no interesting results, I smashed it on the floor and the whole hut started to vibrate. Fortunately I was carrying a Potion of Stillness (for this exact situation, to be sure) and drank it while the hut fell apart around me. Never let it be said that I fled from a collapsing building.

Finally I arrived back at the crypt that had foiled me on two previous occasions. Smugly producing the silver key from my pack, I unlocked the door and descended into the darkness. I then sprinkled the Dust of Levitation on the stone slab, which lifted to reveal a hostile ghoul. Happily I was equipped for this eventuality as well, and splashed holy water on the creature until it crawled into a corner, where I left it sobbing uncontrollably. In the coffin I found what I was hoping for – the head of the sacred hammer!

Leaving the crypt behind, I made a beeline for my final destination, as I now had both pieces of the dwarfs’ precious weapon. Avoiding the wyvern’s lair, I meekly met the bandits’ demands for treasure – none but the hammer itself would do me any good beyond this point, so fighting them would have been a pointless risk. At last I emerged from the forest, and was given a hero’s welcome by the dwarfs of Stonebridge. Gillibran handed over a shiny helmet and enough jewels and gems to make me extremely rich, and make me wonder why he didn’t just spend it all on a better hammer than the piece of junk I’d just handed over. I guess I should have been relieved that he didn’t insist on me marrying his lovely bearded daughter. Ho well – apparently the people of the village were saved, which was more than could be said for the trolls.

Conclusion:  Success! Not so bad once you know the route - you can safely ignore everything else and just go for the items you need.

Number of combats: 13


Writing: A little disappointing. The descriptions are extremely basic and the environments sparsely detailed. This meant that when choosing which path to take, there was no reason to choose one direction over another, because they are simply described as ‘east’ or ‘west’. In a dark dungeon setting this is forgivable, but in a rich outdoor environment like a forest it seems lazy. Even after playing through several times, nothing about the writing really stands out as being memorable. Also the main hero seems to be the most shallow character imaginable, with no background to speak of, and no motivation for taking on the quest beyond the fact that it might bag him a few shinies. The book is also lacking any kind of big boss or final encounter, so the ending was a bit flat.

All of this made it quite difficult to immerse myself in the story and contributed to this review taking much longer than the previous ones.
Writing: 1/5

Artwork: A bit of a mixed bag – the interior illustrations are extremely detailed but some are almost too detailed – for instance the arm wrestling fellow’s muscles! I also felt that a couple of the more significant monsters in the book could have been depicted better.
Artwork: 2/5

Design: The layout of the forest allows a broader range of paths through the adventure, and at any given point there are four or five different branches you could be on. This does of course mean that it’s very easy to miss the quest items. There is a vague true path, which involves making sure that you pass three vital locations on your way through. Everything else is strictly optional. I quite like the fact that the items you can buy at the start of the adventure can all be used to resolve certain situations later on, but it’s a shame that you are never asked which item you would like to try – you are told what the correct item is and you simply answer yes or no. This removes any kind of decision-making form the situation and makes it feel less interactive overall.

In such an open environment and without any time pressure to speak of, I frequently found myself slightly frustrated by the text telling me that I decide to ignore a certain path and simply head northwards. The game is structured in such a way that prevents you exploring the whole forest in one adventure – this is perhaps fair enough as it adds replay value, and most games are designed this way – but drawing attention to the fact that you are unable to explore certain paths for no particular in-game reason seems like a poor way to handle it.
Design: 2/5

Fairness: Apart from a solitary goblin, all other direct combat is avoidable, and while there are a few fights which can be very tough, there is nothing that an average adventurer wouldn’t stand a chance at winning against. The correct route will probably not be found on the first attempt but the ability to go back to the beginning and start again means that you should manage it if you can survive long enough. There is some argument for not taking this option too seriously, however, as the encounters are not set up to cope with the fact that you may have already been there earlier, and you could in theory end up with several hammer heads or shafts…
Fairness: 5/5

Cheating index: 0 Razaaks

Average enemy stats
Successful path
13 encounters, SKILL 7.0, STAMINA 6.9
Entire book
68 encounters, SKILL 6.5, STAMINA 6.1

Instant death paragraphs: 4

Any player can win no matter how weak initial dice rolls – If you find the best route, a single goblin and a few lucky rolls are all that stand between you and victory, TRUE

Final thoughts

I didn’t enjoy this gamebook as much as the previous two – I struggled to stay engaged with the lacklustre story and sparsely described environment. The book isn’t entirely without its highlights though, and it’s worth a go if you want a book that isn’t too taxing.
Final score: 3/10