Sunday, 1 July 2012

Creature of Havoc playthrough

Written by Steve Jackson, Artwork by Alan Langford

Creature of Havoc was the first truly massive Fighting Fantasy epic.

It boasts over 450 segments - unheard of in the FF series at that time - and a whole new type of story in which you are NOT the hero, but a rampaging monster! It also ties very firmly into what was becoming established FF lore, with the inclusion of the villain Zharradan Marr.

If you've read my Warlock of Firetop Mountain playthrough, you may remember my story about the warlock Zagor, Balthus Dire and Marr studying magic together? That actually happened in the FF history. So this book was something of a cornerstone in changing the Fighting Fantasy series from a group of unconnected adventures and into a world setting in its own right.

Not bad for a book that looked so outwardly unremarkable. Or one which I never even got close to finishing when I was a kid, even when I was cheating. This is mainly due to one specific part of the adventure, which I'll discuss when we get to that point.

Creature of Havoc begins with a short story. This is, to my knowledge, the only FF book to start like this - most will give a bit of background and history, usually no more than 4 pages worth. This one is almost 20 pages, therefore ensuring that most children will skip over it entirely.

A slightly shorter opening story
It documents the history of the village in which Marr was born, his rise of power, hobby of creating monsters, and so on. It then describes the history of elven magical artefacts called Vapours, which Marr has stolen and is now attempting to wage war on the elven settlements in order to uncover the knowledge on just how to use the damned items.

The book then tells me that very little of this will help, and that most of it will be 'lead you astray'. Oh gee, thanks for that!

The game starts with you writhing in pain. You struggle to open your eyes, and are soon getting to grips with the process of walking. The text is pretty evocative, feeling very much like a rebirth. It also tells me that I have 'spines', so it's pretty clear that you're not playing as a human being. I'm a monster, possibly the same monster on the later edition's cover, I'm not certain. I've rolled a skill of 10 (which is decent enough), a stamina of 17 (a bit low) and a luck score of 12 (very lucky for a monster). The creature is able to automatically kill an enemy in combat if I roll doubles on my dice. So, not too bad.

I stumble around for a while and eventually find a prisoner, who seems to be terrified of me. This makes me think that maybe I used to be a prisoner as well, before some evil experiments changed me into a monster - but the text is tactfully coy about saying so outright. It gives me the option of how to react, but rather than talking to the prisoner, I instead wind up crushing him in my hulk grip. At this stage in the book, my choices are not controlled my reasoning, but by brute instinct. I do manage to recover a piece of leather parchment from the prisoner's body (it is covered in some kind of coded writing).

I then start stumbling around the dungeon's tunnels. Rather than deciding which tunnels to move down, my movements are determined by the dice. On the plus side, this does help you feel that your character is a beast which doesn't have the ability to think and reacts on its own instincts - on the down side, the reader has no real input into what is going on. Almost as if to demonstrate this, I find a door. I start to smash my way through it to get to whatever is making noises on the other side, but I guess that I lose interest in this because halfway through I simply walk off in another direction.

The titular creature eats a lot and is chaotic... I think I have
a suspect of who he really is. Keep your eyes peeled!
Further down the tunnel, I find a group of adventurers - a knight, a wizard and a hobbit. Silly adventurers, who goes into dungeons without a cleric to do the healing? Well it doesn't matter, because I kill the lot of them. Then I eat them. Yeah, just let that image settle in your mind for a while. This book doesn't have provisions, so the only way to heal your stamina is to either find some food, or chow down on some hobbit. Wonder what hobbit tastes like? Not like chicken!

I eventually find another door, which my creature seems to like a bit more than the last one because he has no hesitation to break down this one. This room contained a few bodies, which seemed to be the end result of a scuffle between some adventurers and a group of orcs. Seems that this place has been quite full of the ol' adventurers in recent days. A group of little carrion-eating goblins decide that they want to try some fresh meat, so I stamp on them until they stop moving.

The book then tells me that the creature tries to eat some orc flesh, which doesn't taste nice, and then investigates the backpacks of the adventurers. Inside one backpack, I find a bottle which contains a vapour, clearly the same as the elven vapour artefacts mentioned in the opening. I break open the bottle, and the vapour is released. It forms a face in the air, speaks some words that I cannot understand, and then dissipates. The book then asks me to choose which door I want to use to leave the room. Yes, to choose which route I want to take. The book doesn't indicate this change (and it's all the more dramatic for it), but the creature is no longer ruled by the random control of a dice to dictate his actions - he can now think and decide for his own!

Sadly, the extent of those decisions at this moment are just "Do you want to go north or east?"

I am soon given the option of another decision, if I should eat from a dead body or not. Keeping up the game's theme of eating things, I decide to do this, only to find that it is rotten and does me some significant damage. That'll teach me for thinking like a zombie, eh?

Stumble around the tunnels a bit more, and I find a signpost. It has an arrow painted on it, so I follow the arrow into a tunnel with two rooms. The first room I break into is full of parchments, I assume it's some form of library. I grab for one of these bits of useless paper, but when I do so a large rock monster starts to form in the middle of the room. The book goes to great lengths to tell me that the monster is far stronger than me, so I do the sensible thing - run like hell.

I charge into another room, only for a portcullis to drop behind me, sealing me off from the tunnels behind me. I roar in anger for a while, scratch myself, and then plod off to another room.

The room I enter swings shut behind me, and starts to fill with blistering hot steam. It seems that this entire room is a giant furnace. I wonder why this room even exists. Does Marr really need a microwave the size of an entire room? Does he feed his army with wooly mammoths? It doesn't matter - the book asks if I have a pair of bracelets, which I do not, so I'm promptly roasted alive.

From what I remember of the later parts of the book, you encounter other vapours as you progress. The next one, if I remember right, allows you to read - by telling you how to decode all of the text that you've seen written down or spoken. It'd be interesting to go back over everything you've seen, done and experienced and see what the hobbit from earlier was saying before I ate him.

As promised, I'll mention the part of this book that proved the most difficult for most players. At some point in the book, you find an amulet that allows you to discover secret doors. Specifically, the fightingfantasy.wikia Creature of Havoc page describes this as "(213) where a secret passage trigger phrase is needed to allow completion of the adventure, does not begin the entry as it was supposed to, leaving a player to guess whether the pendant works here, allowing the player to turn to (233). It says "You reach a dead end." when it should read "You find yourself ..." This was corrected for the first Wizard Books edition, but is present again in the Wizard "Series 2" edition."

Another fave theory of mine
However, my buddy Stuart Lloyd mentioned in his most recent blog post that there may be another way of looking at this. The general idea is this - you know how the amulet works, so when you get to the 'dead end', the player needs to make a concerted effort to decide "I will use the amulet here", even though the book gives no indication that it can be. It's the equivalent of playing dungeons and dragons and saying "I search for hidden doors" without the DM indicating that there may be any hidden doors. The theory presented is particularly interesting and poses a very curious way of looking at this challenge. As to whether the challenge here is due to the misprinting or due to an intentional puzzle, I do think it's somewhat too obtuse a puzzle to be considered legitimately 'fair'. But I won't rule out the theory entirely, because as my university lecturer once told me, "Why limit ourselves to only examining the intended meaning? All theories are worth considering, because they all offer a new way of looking at things."

I want to like Creature of Havoc, really I do. It's such an innovative idea, and it's full of nice unique moments. It cemented so much of Fighting Fantasy as we know it today. It should be everything I want.
But it isn't. As I've mentioned twice already, the book hinges on finding the right items to use at the right times - the amulet, and the bracelets. Finding these items are rather remote, firstly due to the random nature of the initial opening of the book, and then due to the difficulty in simply getting your bearings inside this giant maze of tunnels. You feel as if you're literally thrown into these tunnels, and have to stagger around blindly hoping to find the items that you'll need to survive. And none of those items feel intuitive, and your character is too handicapped in terms of higher reasoning abilities to be able to determine what may be useful and may not.

Even Prince William likes a bit of blindfolded archery
At the end of the day, Creature of Havoc just feels like playing archery while blindfolded. It gives you so little to work with when you're starting out, so few clues that are immediately helpful to the current situations, and yet still expects you to be able to hit the requirements. That's really merciless, and there's really no fair way to get through these without going for the good old 'play it through over and over until you know exactly what you need to do and how to do it'. Damn shame.

This is going on my 'replay' pile, though, because I want to run it again for everyone. Oh, what's my replay pile? Well, as I'm sure you've noticed, I have won ZERO gamebooks so far. Two of them (Scorpion Swamp and Sword of the Samurai) were books that I did so poorly in that I want to replay them to see if I can do any better.

Stick around and you'll see Creature of Havoc again soon. Until then, I think we'll try out one of our other little surprises....


  1. Good (if predicatbly short) play through. Creature of Havoc is super tough for the reasons you mentioned and, as you said, since combat is super easy, apart from the first bit, there's very little death by dice roll. People seem to like it for all the features that you didn't like - the detailed backstory and the extremely narrow path.

    Just to make myself sound a bit schizo, Creature of Havoc also appears on the 'unfair and frustrating' list that I will reveal next week as I feel that the case can be made for both sides. I guess it depends on the player.

    If it comes out again, we could probably rename it 'Gamebook Marmite'.

  2. Oh I did like the detailed backstory. It's very promising for the game itself, and definitely added so much to the world of Titan. I might do a blog post about that at some point, too. Maybe when I can find a copy of the Titan book. It just feels quite a shame to read through the whole backstory chapter, thoroughly get into it, and then wind up dying so quickly in the game itself.

  3. This book was the one my younger self got so frustrated at he gave up without even dying! Not sure why looking back; who doesn't like playing as a killer monster nowadays?! I'll be steering clear of this one for a while on my blog though, this appears to be one of the hardest FF there is. Oh, you should get Titan,it's a great read. Nothing that will actually help win an FF book, but it's all interesting stuff to give a substantial backbone to the FF universe :)Looking good so far on the auction for that potential project by the way

    1. Looking back over how this blog entry turned out, it definitely seems to be one of those adventures that's more fun to think about and analyse than it is to actually play. Which is such a shame...

  4. That's a really interesting point. It seems that gamebooks are read in many different ways than intended. People read random paragraphs, people read all the paragraphs and people cheat in various ways. reading the book to analyse and think about (and Creature of Havoc gives us a lot to think about) is yet another way to use a gamebook.

    1. One of the nice things about gamebooks is that, even after all these years, there's still no 'rules' about how they should be. Every author makes up what their game is as they see fit. That's why there's such a huge variety in the genre.

      For instance, there's combat-less ones, there's ones that cross over through many books, there's multiplayer ones, there's massive epics like Destiny Quest, there's one I remember as a kid which was structured and sold as a comic book! Creature of Havoc was one that was more 'book' than 'game', I think.

      So yeah, not just a whole lot of ways to read them, but a whole lot of ways to write them as well. Which I suppose is entirely appropriate for games!

  5. if you switch your search engine to ‘images’ and type in ‘creature of havoc map’ and do a search, you’ll get a detailed map of marr’s dungeon complex.