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Author Topic: Gamebooks  (Read 13407 times)

Dark Jimbo

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Re: Gamebooks
« Reply #525 on: 23 September, 2022, 01:21:56 PM »
I'm glad you finished it! I remember the Time Serpent bring much harder to beat than that, so much so that I thought it was the hardest of the four books!  I don't know if I just struggled to find the correct route or if the Past Light Towers weren't in the book (I don't remember them, but it's been about 20 years 🤷‍♂️). You seem to be indestructible!

Though it didn't seem like it in the write-up, the middle section of the game (the Forest/Marsh/Steppes) took me aaaaaaaages. I haven't used the 'rewind' function much up until now, but there was a section I tried again, and again, and again with increasing frustration - in the present, the second Past Light tower was impassable and I just couldn't work out how to get into it (and until I did, there was no discovery of the 'fast travel' system and no lightbulb moment, not to mention no fixing of the bridge).

@jamesfeistdraws

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Re: Gamebooks
« Reply #526 on: 30 September, 2022, 01:45:15 PM »
Rebel Planet

Another brand new one for me!

There's a long and detailed intro to the book describing the setup, which is basically that Earth has been subjugated by The Arcadian Empire and as the protagonist I'm a hand-picked special agent to stop this happening - so presumably the titular rebel planet is Earth! The Arcadians are a sort of reptilian hive mind race and have some kind of Krool-heart-esque computer that controls them all so all I have to do is blow it up and Earth is saved. This doesn't make sense really. Even dafter, the code to get to the computer is held by three rebel agents on three separate planets so I have to go visit them all. I know where the first one is but basically nothing about the other two. Ok....
Unlike the other sci-fi books there aren't loads of special rules for guns or space combat because humans aren't allowed any guns (all I have is a secret sword) but I am Way of the Tiger-like badass who can kill someone with a single blow, giving me a 1/6 chance of an instant kill should I ever be in a fistfight.

My super space ninja lands on the first planet, Tropos, which is a police state. Looking not to draw attention I take a cab to my assigned crappy human hotel instead of the meeting point, thinking I will slip out later. This backfires a bit when an Arcadian comes into the dorm and tries to kill another human, so I kill him and flee with my new mate, who I end up killing as well when he turns out to be a criminal who was going to turn me in. I do kill him with one blow though using the unarmed combat rules. Avenger would be proud!
Eventually I sneakily reach the rendezvous - a sleazy bar called Fission Chips - where I make contact with the rebels. They're incredibly paranoid, as you'd expect from a subjugated race living in a police state, and there's a lot of questions. I decide to play it totally straight with them and do exactly as they ask until they ask me to kill one of their cell: by refusing I show my 'human compassion' (which is a bit Star Trek) and they give me the code, sort of. Turns out they don't know the code, just a song that helps Arcadians remember the code. I haven't got a clue what this means, so like the dutiful freedom fighter I am I make a note of the paragraph number and decide to worry about it later.

It's time to leave Tropos and head for planet number 2. Under Arcadian rule Humans aren't allowed carry certain items, and when I assassinated the human criminal, I declined to take a load of his gear, so I manage to blag my way through customs and off Tropos. Radix is a much more relaxed place, with humans able to attend human universities and own businesses, but nevertheless I don;t draw attention to myself and stay at the scummiest place available ('Porkys') where I learn the relaxed atmosphere is something of a facade as there's some kind of battle robot that the authorities use to break up human demos. With a sinking feeling that I'll be seeing that later I head off the university to eavesdrop and end up meeting the second contact, the lecturer Professor Zacharias. He says he'll give me the code after his lecture - he asks if I want to attend but I make a mistake here and decide to go for a cup of coffee instead and when I come back the Prof has knocked off for the evening. I head back to Porkys, but I'm followed: I dodge the Arcadians and unsurprisingly they unleash the killer robot, called STREET FIGHTER, which sadly does not attack with Hadoukens but does use a sort of sonic boom, which means it's damage increases per hit - 2 stamina for the first successful attack, 3 for the second and so on. I have a weedy stamina and am in a bit of a panic, but my blows can do skill or stamina damage to it, so I spend a few rounds reducing it's skill from 9 to 5 by wrecking its guidance system and then make short work of it before going back to the hotel for dinner.
The next morning, I head back to meet the Prof only to find out he has been arrested for being the leader of the underground. I'm arrested too soon after, but the Prof leaves me a visual clue in the page art. Again this means nothing to me so I make another note of the paragraph.
Under arrest on Radix I deny being part of the underground... and am immediately executed. GAME OVER. This sucks, so I go again and admit to being part of the underground which means I qualify for some kind of gladiatorial contest which, if I win, I go free. This is clearly nonsense but it's a way out! I first have to navigate a 'one door is death the other is ok' but where my insistence with always going left saves my bacon, and to cut a long story short I kill some monsters and the Arcadians let me go like the chumps they are.

The third planet, Halmuris, is a hostile wasteland where nighttime sub-zero temperatures mean death. I have no weapon at this point and reduced skill due to the planets unfavorable gravity: on landing I try to acquire a new sword from the black market and end up killing more humans and setting the place one fire, although I do get a sword and a random roll also gives me some wirecutters. My first task is to navigate a huge fence where I'm asked if I picked up the wirecutters or a jet pack. DOH.
Once outside I know I need to head North East but also need to survive the freezing temperatures, so I take shelter in what turns out to be a carnivorous plant and nearly get digested. Now on pathetic stamina I wander haplessly lost until I encounter a weird telepathic light that asks me for a 'zplaran' before transforming into a huge demon and killing me immediately when I don't have one.
I'm a bit cheesed off by this weird death so I rewind a few paragraphs and try a different path. This time I battle some of the local fauna, get brutally bitten by a giant rat after shoving my hand into it's den and find a weird brightly coloured stick. The path then leads me back to the weird light, to which I offer the stick and it promptly tells me my contact is a guy named Dorado and gives me the password to talk to him. If this all sounds like it makes no sense - don't worry, it doesn't.
I eventually reach the facility where Dorado is based, only to find it's under attack. I take more stamina damage (by now my stamina is well into single figures) but Dorado gives me the final bit of the code... or does he? he just tells me the whole code is a palindrome.

From here I rush off to planet Arcadion to use the code 'info' I have acquired. There are two Arcadians on my ship and one of them knocks on my door late at night, which I ignore only to get another GAME OVER paragraph. WTF... I rewind again, open the door, and by a strange sequence of events end up wired up to an Arcadian mind control machine where an Arcadian scientist is trying to essentially bring me (and after that, all humans) into the hive mind. The book here switches to a sort of Neuromancer type scenario where I must defeat monsters to simulate my struggle with the machine. After each win the machine offers me some pitifully obvious-trap rewards, so I ignore them all and push on, eventually mind wiping the Arcadian and getting the door code to the main computer room basement.

Finally, Aracadion. I leave the ship in a rush before the Arcadians are discovered and head straight for the main computer. Here I'm asked for the three bits of the code: 9 binary digits. With this info I can go back and with a bit of puzzling work out the three previous clues. This bit is absolutely ingenious and I was very impressed with it!
Once inside I'm offered the chance to go straight to the computer or visit the basement: I've got the code, so I pop down and it turns out to be full of weapons. I swipe a gun and some plastic explosive, gun down the guards and blow up the computer. VICTORY!

What a load of fun nonsense this book was. As most of the previous sci-fi ones have been terrible I didn't have high hopes, but overall it was great to play, although not without issue: the start is definitely the best bit with the player involved in cloak and dagger operations in a sort of alien Soviet Union, with careful thought and characterful decisions rewarding you with the best results. After that there's a steady decline in quality and increase in rushed-ness and by the time you hit planet number three there's a lot of  'do you go left or right' choices and a several auto-deaths. The bit with the sentient light and the stick is pure nonsense and the last planet is a total rush job as you basically land at the computer, go in and blow it up. And let's not start on the whole hive mind / computer concept itself: the aliens show no sign at all of being hive-mind-y whatsoever and the whole thing is an obvious, and weak, macguffin for you to be able to blow up a single object and save the galaxy. A more thematic option would be something like releasing a spore that kills them all off, but I can see why the book wanted to avoid genocide or anything along those lines and went with a big 'make them all friendly' button. The whole ending though felt very rushed - even the final paragraph is a bit 'yay! you win' although not as bad as Space Assassin.
Criticisms aside the rest was cool. The binary puzzle, and the way it was hidden (especially in the illustration) was both very unqiue and very clever (and surely far to tricky for a child to work out). The artwork is superb throughout and the tone is not too serious whilst not being too silly at the same time. I felt it didn't lean too hard into the sci-fi nature of things - no guns etc felt weird but nicely simplified things, and aside from a few bits the whole thing could have been set in a fantasy type setting with minimal changes. Well worth playing imo and a very pleasant surprise.
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Dark Jimbo

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Re: Gamebooks
« Reply #527 on: 30 September, 2022, 02:13:31 PM »
@jamesfeistdraws

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Re: Gamebooks
« Reply #528 on: 30 September, 2022, 03:05:16 PM »
Forgot to mention this book is very generous on stamina recovery - every time you eat or sleep you get some back, and you recover half your initial stamina each time to fly to a new planet.
I started with a high skill and low stamina and without this I'd have been well dead. High Skill is essential for this as there's a ton of skill tests (including a vital one to learn how to beat the Street Fighter)
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Richard

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Re: Gamebooks
« Reply #529 on: 30 September, 2022, 04:43:38 PM »
Good write-up! I laughed at the wirecutters/ jet pack bit.

I agree with your view that the first planet is the best. I'd rather that bit had been bigger and one of the other planets been skipped altogether. Overall it's a fun book though.

I don't have FF 19, but I'm just about to start FF 20: Sword of the Samurai by the authors of Way of the Tiger.

Richard

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Re: Gamebooks
« Reply #530 on: 01 October, 2022, 03:54:52 PM »
FF 20: Sword of the Samurai

I started this book last night and I was expecting to play it over the next couple of days, but I got so into it that I finished it last night, and then went back and read all the bits I missed. So that is a good sign!

It's a fun book. It has all the hallmarks of Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson's writing: lots of description and world-building, lots of instant death paragraphs and gruesome nastiness, lots of demons, and a choice of special skills. And it's beautifully illustrated by Alan Langford, who also did Island of the Lizard King but his work here is better. There are some absolutely fabulous illustrations.

I'll do some spoiler tags here and there, but of course this whole review will be spoilerific!

There are four special skills to choose from. I chose one where I get to fight with two swords at the same time, which means that if I roll a 9 or above in combat then I get an extra attack.  There is also an Honour score, where you start with 3 and if you drop to zero then you have to kill yourself in disgrace!

My mission is to go to some villain's mountain lair, assassinate him, and retrieve a magic sword he stole. Most of the book consists of the journey to get there. The first choice to make is a choice between two routes. It's not quite as bad as "east or west" because there's a bit of description about each route, but it's hardly ideal, and as I chose the least interesting of the two routes, I'd say it's the weakest thing about the whole book.

I thought that travelling through somewhere called the Forest of Shadows sounded like asking for trouble, so I went the other way. I should have followed Bazza Boots' rule of always going left! If I had, I would have fought some evil ronin samurai, infiltrated a castle to assassinate an evil lord, met a dragon, fought the undead samurai on the front cover, and increased my Honour score considerably. I might also have picked up a companion, an anti-Mungo who sticks around for a while and is actually helpful, and even has an opportunity to survive!

Instead, the route east took me on an altogether less heroic journey, where I only got one extra Honour point. At least I was still able to complete my quest by going this way -- it's not a one true path book, and so it goes up in my estimation for that. I started by bullying some slightly stroppy peasants (which reminds me a bit of Monty Python), and that was where I got my only Honour point. Well, I'd heard that real life samurai were dicks, so it makes sense that they would be dicks in Khul too!

On my first playthrough, I next killed a ronin who had a skill of 10, which I felt justified my choice of starting with maximum scores -- especially after I stole his stuff, which was booby-trapped and cost me two skill points! This is certainly not a book you could do with a skill of 7 reduced to 5!

My newly acquired items were a map and a key. They are both potentially useful items, but are they indispensable? "Hope not!" I thought, and when I got killed in my next encounter, I avoided coming this way again on my second go, finding instead a route from the peasants directly to where I was killed last time and bypassing this whole sorry business.

My first demise was in a village where the inhabitants seem to be friendly but turn out not to be what they seem. In the daytime they seem normal, but at night they reveal themselves to be very sinister undead creatures! They're more interesting and much more deadly than regular zombies. Their heads come off their shoulders and fly directly at you, trying to headbutt you into oblivion! After winning a fight against some of them, I realise I am still hopelessly outnumbered and have to flee. Running through the dark I fall into a well and, unable to take off my armour quickly enough, it weighs me down and I drown ignominiously!

I was a bit puzzled by the fact that I had successfully Tested my Luck immediately before that sudden death paragraph. Was it a mistake? So I looked at the alternative, and it turned out that is also a sudden death too, just a much more horrible one! How very typically Smith & Thomson!

Oddly, my next fight was with an elk. Um, okay. I win, and collect one of its antlers as a trophy. This comes in useful later, in circumstances where no rational person would think to use it, but never mind. I then get killed trying to ford a river. On my next try, I just carry on from where I arrived at the river and this time manage to cross it, successfully navigating a quite tricky encounter with some weird scaly aquatic creatures, but (as I find out later) missing the opportunity to collect a useful magical item from them.

I now enter a swamp, and am given a choice of three directions I could head in. The ronin's map would have come in handy here, but I don't have it on this playthrough. I choose the two wrong directions and pay with my life twice. On my third route through the swamp, I make it through, and am ambushed by a giant trapdoor spider. At this point, I realise I have been forgetting to eat provisions! I have to start this battle with a stamina of 5, and although I somehow manage to survive, I am killed immediately at the next encounter, which to be fair is a demon so no shame there. Reincarnating just after the fight with the huge spider, I go in the other direction to avoid the demon, defeat two more spiders, and then arrive at the mountains where the big baddy lives. This is the point where the two main routes through the book finally converge. I'm at the endgame!

(Incidentally, if you do have the map, you can find your way to some location which is impossible to reach without it, where you can pick up some useful magic items, but where there is also a high risk of being killed.)

There is now a big chunk of the book where I basically have to duel some demon to get into the final boss's lair. The duel is to take place in an arena, and before going there I am given the opportunity to recruit up to seven allies to aid me in the forthcoming battle; meanwhile the demon is recruiting his own allies to fight against me. This is the point in the book where it is basically asking me how many magic items I managed to pick up on the way here (one!) and how high my Honour score is (4, I needed at least 5). The result is that I enter the arena with a paltry one "ally" (and it's not even a person, just a wand I picked up in exchange for the elk antler). My opponent has three! He is accompanied by a giant toad monster, a giant praying mantis, and a giant actual giant called Gargantus. I just have my wand which, I hope, has some magic power which I can use despite having had no training in magic. Frankly, I have done so badly in getting to this point that I could really have no complaint if the book instantly killed me. But it turns out that one item or ally is enough. The wand disposes of the giant toad, and then I fight each of the other three opponents in turn. I defeat them all, with only one stamina point left! I'm almost giddy with victory.

(This section of the book is well-constructed, having many paragraphs devoted to the various different combinations of allies which each side can pit against the other. If I had gone into this battle with more allies, I could have chosen who to send to fight the mantis, the giant and the demon. Some of these allies would have won, and some would have been killed, the outcomes depending on who they are fighting against. It's actually brilliant stuff!)

Anyway. The demon, with his dying breath, is bound by demonic law or something to answer one question. I ask him the wrong one, suspecting that what turns out to have been the right question to ask is a trap (a reasonable assumption, I think, since it is based on what appeared to be vital information which I was told by the Shogun at the start of my mission).

I finally face the person who stole the Sword of the Samurai, the dude I've been sent to assassinate, and very helpfully he has the sword with him so I don't have to search for it like Zagor's treasure or something. I stuff my face with a hasty meal, but I only have time to eat once so I still only have 5 stamina points. Even worse, I don't have the knowledge I was supposed to get from the vanquished demon, and so I am killed. I resume play from that interrogation, learn the essential info, and still get killed anyway. But on my next go, I manage to survive for long enough to retrieve the sword, for some pretty impressive bonuses to my skill, stamina and luck scores, all of which are allowed to exceed their initial values! I now legitimately have a skill score of 14!

With my new sword I fight a demon, win easily, and then make a bad choice about how to confront my final enemy (there were four options), leading to sudden death. But on my next (ninth and final) life, I make the right choice. I am still brutally punished for not having enough Honour points, and am deprived of one of my just-recently-acquired skill points, but I still have a skill of 13 for my single combat with my final adversary, who has a skill of 12. I defeat him and turn to 400! Yay!

I very much enjoyed this book. It's just as good as I would expect from these authors, the art is invariably great, and while the plot is basically a hike through hostile lands and then a couple of big fights at the end, most FF books are like that so I can't really complain. Well worth getting this on eBay!
« Last Edit: 01 October, 2022, 04:03:20 PM by Richard »

Dark Jimbo

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Re: Gamebooks
« Reply #531 on: 01 October, 2022, 06:19:28 PM »
Oh, what?! And here was I wondering when to post my Demons of the Deep write-up...!  😅

Okay, here's my SotS playthrough instead (without, I stress, having read Richard's yet).


Sword of the Samurai

Sometimes, as a grown man of 38 playing 1980s gamebooks that feel pitched squarely at 7-year olds (hello, Demons of the Deep!) you can wonder what you’re doing with your life. Can Sword of the Samurai re-engage me? It’s a new one for me; Japanese mythology has never hugely interested me, and the awful (original) cover never helped, so it was a book I had never sought out. But the effusive reviews of the authors’ Way of the Tiger books are more than enough to earn the benefit of the doubt…

So we’ve said goodbye to the Potions, but provisions are still hanging around for now. There’s also a new Honour stat to keep track of, and a choice of special skills – Archery, Fast Draw, Heroic Leaping, and Dual-Wielding (of which you can choose one). I choose Archery, and roll up a character of Skill 10, Stamina 20 and Luck 11. Not too bad at all…

The Playthrough
Part 1 – Of Samurai and Shikome
I, Samurai Kensei for the Shogun Hasekawa, am charged to recover the legendary Dai-Katana, Singing Death – the very soul of the land of Hachiman. The sword must be wrested from the grasp of Ikiru, the Master of Shadows, before he overruns our fair and pleasant land of cherry blossoms with all manner of demons and ghosts. The dominions of Konichi are still at peace, but I’m not far into the province of Lord Tsietsin before my eyes speak to me of a burning village nearby. Bandits, most likely, emboldened by the loss of Singing Death. I could not square it with my honour if I closed my ears to the despairing screams of the villagers, and immediately turn off the main road. Before I’ve reached the village, a horseman comes barrelling towards me – a SAMURAI WARRIOR, in the green-and-blue lacquered armour of Lord Tsietsin. What infamy is this?! Lord Tseitsin is a vassal of the Shogun – how can it be that his warriors openly prey on defenceless peasants?  Well, If the capital letters hadn’t already clued you in, I have to fight him



I’m given the option to prowl the edge of the village firing arrows, but – despite being mightily tempted – I elect to stride straight into the middle of the village and demand the SAMURAI face me in single combat. These men are not entirely lost to honour, at least, for three of them take me up on my challenge. One by one, I cut them down. Their more cowardly brethren decide discretion is the better part of valour, and flee. I approached the village on 20 stamina; I’ll leave it on a mere 4. Such is the price of honour. But I’ve gained 1 Honour for taking on the samurai, 1 Honour and 1 Luck for saving the village – and a further 1 Honour for sparing the life of a wounded young samurai, left behind by his fellows, whom the villagers are trying to lynch. The grateful warrior offers to be my retainer – perhaps as a way to remove the stain of his dishonour. When I accept (to the open disgust of the villagers) he introduces himself as Yomitsume Moichi. I tell Mungo I’m glad to know him. ‘Moichi,’ he corrects. Why? What did I say?



Together we take to the road once more, Moichi telling me – at some length, it has to be said – all about his family history. He’s a likeable young sort, although I’m still not sure if I entirely trust him. Soon a vast edifice looms on the crest of the next hill – the palace of Lord Tseitsin. My eyes narrow. I know exactly what I must do. Moichi looks appalled when I tell him my plans; but he doesn’t try to talk me out of it. Supposedly he knows of a litte-guarded postern gate, and the password to get through – and I’ve little choice but to put my life in his hands.

On guard in the courtyard are two Shikome – vile humanoid beasts, squeezed into rusty armour in mockery of true samurai. So! Tseitsin is in league with Ikiru, and his legions of darkness. All the more important to visit the Shogun’s justice on him, then. I don the armour of the unconscious guard, and we march boldly up to the Shikome, demanding audience with Tseitsin. Three of the creatures are called to leads us through the palace. We bide our time a litte, then strike. Mungo Moichi gamely takes on one Shikome, while I engage the other two. Despite having to fight them both together, they don’t prove as much of a challenge as the samurai earlier, and we manage to slay them before any alarm is raised (though it all ends up hinging on a buttock-clenching Luck roll, to make sure we finish them in the allotted nine rounds). Poor old Moichi seems to have taken the worst of it – though he’s not lost any of his sass. We now blunder somewhat ineptly through the palace, passing gawking servants and slaves aplenty. I suppose I had been assuming that Moichi knew the layout – had, perhaps, been in his feudal Lord’s own palace before. Alas, not – despite knowing of the postern gate, and the password. Hmm.



By mere blind chance we bump into Lord Tseitsin himself, waddling down a corridor with a samurai either side! His jowls wobble as he gapes at us, incredulous. Looking him up and down (it’s quicker than going across) I notice he is wearing the hat which indicates the office of shogun, and my blood boils within me. He barks a command, and TSEITSIN’S BODYGUARD rush to defend their master. Faithful Moichi darts forward to engage one, while I set about the other. I fare better than he does, as I’m told afterwards – yet again! – that he’s been wounded. That’s at least three times now, just in the short while I’ve known him!

The two of us then dash after Tseitsin (me bolting down some Spicy tuna rolls as I go). His Lordship was not built for speed, and despite his lead we’ve soon cornered him in one of the many richly-decorated palace rooms. None too soon, either – he’s on the brink of manouvering his vast bulk down into a trapdoor. The traitorous swine protests his loyalty to Shogun Hasekawa – a pitiful display of false contrition that he quickly shows the lie to. Tseitsin’s eyes narrow with malice, and he suddenly flings a needle-like dagger from within his sleeve, catching me on the leg and losing me 3 Stamina points. Thank Hotei I munched all that sushi! A curt nod passes between Moichi and I, and we slay the perfidious patrician together.

Well, I’m no closer to the Singing Death, but an important bannerman of Ikiru has been slain, and the honour of Hachiman restored. In a gold-and-black lacquered chest I find a new suit of armour, 100(!) gold pieces, and an arrow with the power to dispel evil spirits. There’s no time to enjoy these spoils, though – no sooner has Moichi helped me into the new armour than Tseitsin’s guards are hammering on the doors. We dart down into the stygian darkness of the trapdoor, and the unknown…



It's down in the gloom, among the piled bones of countless luckless sacrifices, that Moichi’s luck finally runs out. A Mukade – a horrific, forty-foot centipede from Hell itself – darts from the gloom, and takes his whole arm and most of one shoulder in a single bite. Noooooo! Mungooooooooo-! Ahem. I’m not sure why I said that. It must have been the grief. I vent my fury on the wretched monster, which, while having an impressive Stamina of 20, doesn’t give me any trouble with its Skill of only 7. I’m in time to speak a little with Moichi before he departs this life; a sad loss, but I know that he’ll be received well in the halls of Heaven. A light went out in Hachiman today. A light called Moichi.

Intermission – Of Riddles and Rotters
Soon I reach the Forest of Shadows. It has an air of deep and abdiding mystery – something magical in the air. So I’m almost prepared for a wingless dragon – a TATSU – to coil lazily down from the canopy above me. It grins with an impossible number of teeth, and invites me to try to answer its riddle. The implications of not even attempting to answer are not worth thinking about. It’s one of those ‘Once you think you have an answer, convert the letters of the alphabet to numbers, add them together and see if it’s the right paragraph’-type games. I hate these. I really do. To the extent that I’d frankly rather just fight the dragon, and save myself the headache. But I do have one possible answer… So before it comes to sword-swinging, I convert my answer to numbers, turn to the paragraph, and… nobody is more astounded than myself when the Tatsu immediately curls up and dies! The forest immediately loses all sense of mystique, and becomes… just a forest.



After the Forest comes the Hang-Kiang river, and the Hagakure Bridge. As soon as I set foot on it, everything changes – the sky becomes darker, the river becomes blood-red, and skeletal bodies are now floating on its surface. A hideous UNDEAD SAMURAI now stands upon the other end of the bridge, advancing with katana in hand. It fights in eerie, absolute silence, and things don’t get any less creepy when it turns invisible for a while! Frankly it’s a relief when, after taking five wounds, the skeleton leaps back to the other end of the bridge. But this isn’t much of a reprieve – it makes a strange, ululating cry. To my horror, the bodies beneath the bridge begin to stir and swarm it. Enough of this necromancy! I notch Tsunewara’s special spirit-dispelling arrow into my bow, and send it straight into the breast of the undead samurai. It dissolves with a shriek, and the cadavers become just that. The river and sky return to their normal colours, and I can feel a great evil has been dispelled. I walk over the pile of ash that was the undead samurai – stopping to pick an ivory horn from the detritius – and then the Shi’Oni montains stand before me.

Part 2 – Of Demons and Doorways
I begin to work my way up the mountainside when a muscular man-like figure, in robes of gold and silver, materialises before me. His face radiates power and malice, and I recognise him as a Dai-Oni, or greater demon. Here’s where the adventure suddenly goes a bit… psychedelic. Everything around me disappears, and I’m suddenly floating among the countless stars, in open Space. Eight doors appear, suspended in the vacuum. The voice of the Dai-Oni gloatingly informs me that, before he grants me entry to the domain of Ikiru, I must try to win over as many of the powerful creatures behind the doors as I can, before facing the Dai-Oni and his own allies for a smackdown at the Place of Battle. So let’s see – in no particular order – how we fare…

There’s a GREAT SERPENT that doesn’t seem particularly inclined to chat. I lift my ivory horn to my lips and blow, but the serpent doesn’t even seem to have ears. It comes down, inevitably, to a brawl. Scratch one Great Serpent. Failure…?

I meet a strange composite creature; a horse-like beast with vast wings and a benevolent lion’s face – the noble KI-RIN. He looks me up and down, and judges my quest a worthy one. I have followed the path of honour wherever possible, as my Honour score of 7 attests. He will aid me, come the Battle. Success!

I face a PHOENIX, but, as I don’t have a Phoenix Ruby, he isn’t much interested in what I have to say. I’m given a little lick of flame for my troubles. Scratch 2 Stamina and 1 potential ally. Failure.



The TATSU is back, and, just to show that there’s absolutely no sour grapes over my killing him in the Forest, immediately blasts me in the face with magic fire, for a loss of 4 Stamina. Touchy lot, these immortals. Failure.

There’s a confused woman in a forest with blue fire crackling around her hands. She doesn’t seem to know who she is, and I’m not really the man to help her there! The only item that I have (that I’m given the option to try) is my ivory horn. When I blast it in her face, she bursts into tears and runs off into the trees. Which is a fair enough response. Failure.

A giant Sabre-tooted Tiger sizes me up, decides that I’d make a nice snack, and charges, fangs dripping with saliva. Surely this is what the Ivory horn is for…? Surely? My desperate blast has an immediate effect; the tiger calms, studies me, and gently licks my face. I get a sense that I have made another ally. Success!

Finally I meet nine noble warriors – samurai, perhaps, but men of strangely pale complexion and hair the colour of straw, wearing white surcoats over golden armour the likes of which I’ve never seen before. Do I return to them the War-fan of their King? Thankfully, I do – I picked it up in the catacombs below Tseitsin’s palace, after poor Moichi died. The Golden Company pledges their support. Success!

That’s it, then. I’ve been through every door, for good or ill – nothing else to do but head to the Field of Battle…



I arrive in a vast colosseum, where the Dai-Oni and his allies await. Ghostly figures of a bygone age materialise in the seats all around, to start laying bets on the outcome. The Dai-Oni’s champions are an, ahem, ‘eclectic’ lot; a toad, a giant Preying Mantis and a fifteen-foot man of bronze with goat legs and eyes of glowing red flame. The Dai-Oni barks an order to something called a ‘GRAALSCH’, and the enormous toad-thing hops forward. I’m asked which of my allies I’ll send against it. (So this is evidently how it’s going to go down – not a free-for-all, but one-on-one). I motion the Sabre-toothed Tiger forward, holding back what I feel are the more impressive of my allies for the later rounds. I chose wisely here – my tiger immediately lays open the Graalsch’s side with its talons, then proceeds to casually tear it to pieces. After my tiger dematerialises, I’m actually left feeling rather embarrassed at how easily my champion won.

I needn’t bother, as that’s about as good as it gets! I send the Golden Company against the MANTIS DEMON, and have to watch as they are slaughtered to a man; their weapons unable to pierce the chitinous armour of the Mantis. Reluctantly, I motion the Ki-Rin forward, despite hoping to hold him back for the bronze giant. To my horror and utter disbelief, the Mantis lazily beheads the noble beast. That’s it – no allies left. I stand alone, with the Dai-Oni and two monsters still left to defeat. Quaking somewhat in my armour, I walk forward, hardly daring to face the Mantis that made such short work of my otherworldly allies. How can I, a mere mortal, possibly hope to – wait, Skill 7? Skill 7?! After all that build-up the Mantis Demon goes down easily, only getting in a single scratch.

GARGANTUS, the bronze giant, now lumbers forward, and I have a feeling he’ll prove a little tougher – especially as, every third round, I have to roll an extra die, and if it’s an odd number then the Gargantus blasts me with his eye beams. I dodge the first such beam, but get hit by the second. The battle goes as close as it’s possible to go – the Gargantus and I both end up on 2 Stamina apiece, before I manage to bring him down (and just before a third eye-beam attack!) I bolt back my penultimate provision to take me back up to a still-measly 6 Stamina, and then the DAI-ONI steps forward, less than pleased that I took down all his champions (never mind that he started this whole bloody thing!) He doesn’t have the worst stats ever – Skill 10, Stamina 20 – but whenever he lands a blow, I have to roll a die for an extra, horrible effect; once I lose a Luck point; and twice – as if this battle wasn’t hard enough – I lose a Skill point. Needless to say, it isn’t a battle that lasts too long. May the Shogun forgive me.

The Verdict
The dice did not like me. Despite two different playthroughs, both on Skill 10, I fought several Skill 7/8 enemies who made absolute mincemeat of me. That’s hardly the book’s fault, though, and it's by and large a cracker! The art is by Alan Langford, last seen on Island of the Lizard King, and he’s obviously having as much fun as the reader.

I loved the sudden move into mythical psychedelia, with the Hub of eight doors and the big arena confrontation. Who will you recruit for your cause? Who will you send against the enemy champions? It’s superb stuff, the likes of which we haven’t really seen thus far in the FF series. The only disappointment is that the Dai-Oni is a complete randomer – nothing really to do with your quest at all. It would have felt much more narratively fitting if this part of the book had been the climactic confrontation with Ikiru.

@jamesfeistdraws

Pyroxian

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Re: Gamebooks
« Reply #532 on: 02 October, 2022, 02:47:55 PM »
I thought I'd try something different to FF, so:
GrailQuest: The Castle of Darkness

This series was the first I played, before I ended up getting a pile of FF books and then finally getting into the Lone Wolf series

The system itself isn't too tricky, your only stat is your Life Points, which are generated by rolling 2D6 and multiplying by 4. You get 3 rolls and can pick the best one. I roll 5/5/9, so end up with 36 LP
Basic combat is done by rolling 2d6. If you score a 6 or more you hit and whatever you score over 6 is the damage dealt. Reducing an enemy to less than 5 LP will knock them unconscious and reducing them to 0 or less will kill them. Certain weapons need a lower number to hit and can do bonus damage, and armour can reduce damage.
Some monsters can also be bribed to let you pass if you have enough gold!
You can also gain XP points for solving puzzles and winning combats. Each 20 XP gives you a permanent Life Point which is added on to your rolled LP total.

Anyway on with reading the book. Turns out it's an actual spell that puts me in control of a young farm-person named Pip back in Arthurian times. Unfortunately I body-swap right at the point that they're being bullied by a kid named Mean Jake. So this is my first introduction to basic combat and... the dice hate me. I land one blow on Jake before he knocks 10 LP off me and I beg for mercy.

After going home, some soldiers arrive and escort me off to a Log Castle where I meet Merlin who explains that Guinevere is about to be kidnapped by the dreaded Wizard Ansalom and that I'm going to be the one to volunteer to rescue her. To this end I'm given a large amount of equipment, including some healing potions, armour (-4 damage) and a smaller version of Excalibur (Named Excalibur Junior, or EJ for short), which hits on a 4+ and does +5 damage and can also talk.
I'm also given some magical spells (after a small mishap which sets fire to some scrolls) - 10 lightning bolts which automatically hit and do 10 damage, and 2 fireballs which hit on a 6+ and do 75 damage.

After all of this I'm sent to meet King Arthur and end up being escorted to the edge of the forest to start the adventure properly.

I promptly run into a wolf, which I managed to bribe by offering it my packed lunch. Carrying on I arrive at the Wizard Ansalom's Dark Castle without any further major mishaps. It looks very unguarded, which makes me wary so I enter cautiously... and arrive in a courtyard. Seeing some chickens and being a farm-worker, I decide to wander over and look at them. Turns out they are Savage Chickens and I end up pecked to death, which takes me to section 14.

Section 14 explains the death rules. I have to re-roll my LP (9/12/5 so the maximum of 48!) and will respawn at the entrance to the forest, and lose any equipment/treasure I gained during the adventure. On the plus side, any creatures that I have killed will no longer be around and I can safely ignore them. On the down side any equipment that they drop will also have disappeared... It also explains that I should make a map as I go along, which turns out to be very useful later on.

So back to the start I go, and I go right this time in order to avoid the wolf and end up meeting a Black Knight. After that encounter I end up back in the castle courtyard. This time I avoid the chickens and climb up to the ramparts, where I'm shot at by archers. I only lose a few LP so I take a healing potion and head straight for the doors on the other side of the courtyard.

And promptly fall down a hidden trapdoor into a corridor. Proceeding down the corridor I fall into a Pit Trap, but avoid the spikes. I then enter a series of caves, fight a living compost heap and then end up back in series of corridors. I find a room with 6 zombies in, which I narrowly manage to defeat, despite them hitting on a 9+ (But effectively getting 6 attacks to my 1). After exploring some more corridors I find a secret door which takes my to an Underground Cavern with a lake in it. Despite EJ's misgivings, I get into a boat and find myself on an island. A meeting with the Lady of the Lake gains me a Luckstone - a magical item which allows me to add or subtract 3 from any roll I make).

Heading back I end up at a corridor junction. I head East and end up in a magically darkened room with the sound of breathing. I decided to go back and try West, end up in a large circular chamber with a statue of Ansalom in it, but the door locks itself behind me! Solving the puzzle, I manage to make it out unscathed and try West again, this time using a lightnig bolt to light up the room. I manage to make friends with the creature in the room and end up getting some money and a magic scroll containing a Death spell (Instantly kills an opponent, but also kills me if a double is rolled on 2D6).

After this there are no more sections offered by the book that I haven't already gone to, but having made a map, I'm able to retrace my steps back to a chamber that had some steps leading up. Climbing them I fall down another pit, and get the option to explore it, which I do. After several encounters, one of which is a poisonous snake which kills on 1 hit (The Luckstone proves very handy here), I find another secret door. Opening it means I get the drop on some guards which I quickly dispatch. Carry on I get ambushed by some more guards while searching, but I do find a treasure room! I can't take it all, but take a large amount of gems and some gold.

I carry on East, and arrive at a crossroads. There are some guards down one of the branches which end up spotting me so I have to fight them. But it turns out they were guarding Ansalom's Magical Workroom, where I roll for a random magical item. I get a globule wand, which prevents the enemy from attacking for the next 4 strikes.

Going back to the crossroads I head west and enter a seemingly empty guard-room. It's not empty though but I manage to defeat the undead spawn that appears as I had an item in my starting equipment that I hadn't used yet. I loot a jewelled ring, and head north into Ansalom's throne room!

Ansalom is guarded by 2 hounds, but they are bribable so I use some of my treasure from the Treasure Room to avoid that fight.
Fighting Ansalom, I use my globule wand to prevent him from attacking and then use 2 fireballs to defeat him. A pretty easy fight!
Loading up the contents of the Treasure Room onto a cart, I head back to Camelot where I am hailed as a hero. Unfortunately I end up getting the treasure cart stolen - oops.

It was fun to play through, with quite a lot of humour but definitely aimed at younger readers than FF. It's also quite a short book - only 150 sections, which means a lot of the branching sections are quite close to each other with some choices ending up on the same page. I also encountered a couple of wrong section numbers as well, but the map allowed me to work out the correct one.

Annoyingly the Luckstone is way OP - I pretty much couldn't lose once I got it. It would've been better if you could only use it once per section, or it had a limited number of charges. It lasts until you die, and you can take it forward to future adventures as well.

Barrington Boots

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Re: Gamebooks
« Reply #533 on: 03 October, 2022, 12:59:51 PM »
Thanks for this writeup Pyroxian, really enjoyed it! I very much enjoyed the Grailquest books I played when I was a boy - it helped that they weren't hugely difficult, but there was something about the way they are written, talking directly to the reader and teasing breaking the 4th wall, that I always felt really drew me in and made me feel like I actually was part of the world and something slightly magical was happening. I've still got a couple of them somewhere. I'd love to read more playthroughs and opinions on them....

On the FF front I was going to do Demons of the Deep next but I guess I'll be jumping ahead one to Samurai so we can have a playthrough trifecta (and I can read DJ and Richard's posts!)...
You're a dark horse, Boots.