This has been a real curious book. I started it on Thursday, but wound up running out of time to finish it. I then continued the adventure on Friday, and again on Saturday. It just kept going! This should be posted during the weekend, hopefully - but for what was intended to be a mid-week post, I'm suitably amazed at how big and epic this book has been.
When starting out, I knew nothing about this book.
The blurb on the back of the book is very non-specific, discussing there is a dark power, and that I'll need to harness the power of elements, but not really telling me anything of great use. It's all rather ominous, so I'm really in for a surprise here. I know that it's one of the new-FF series published a few years ago, but aside from that, this book's a mystery to me.
The combat mechanics seem the standard, and you begin with an enchanted sword called Wyrmbiter, which damages ghosts and elementals (and if you've played enough FF books as I have, you'll know just how useful something like this can be!) and deals double damage to dragons. Nice!
You also begin with two other curious objects, chosen out of a total of four - I've elected a sun talisman, and for a giant tattoo of a red dragon that's covering my back. I chose the sun tattoo in case I stumble across vampires on this adventure (see my hazy logic there?), and I chose to get this huge tattoo because I'm a total nutjob who's likely to do this sort of thing in real life anyway.
Because this is one of the newer FF books, it gives you the option of choosing a pre-made character. Once again I reject this idea and come up with my own - I decide to honour my Scottish heritage and name my character Wee Fat Jimmy, the most dreaded ginger-haired madman in the known kingdoms. He reached infamy when he confronted the mighty dragon Ffafnir and slew the great beast, with a cry of "See you, mate, I'm pure gonna chib ya!"
|This is like porn to D&D fanboys|
Enough talk. Let's rock.
I am an aged warrior, who has recently completed another of a long series of noble adventures. I sit in the local tavern, amusing the barmaid and a crew of merry folk with tales of my escapades. I must admit that if I were a real-life sword-wielding adventurer, this is what I'd do most of the time as well. As I tell the crowd my stories, an old rival of mine trudges into the bar. Varick Oathbreaker, he is the Belloq to my Indiana Jones. He swears revenge against me (it seems that I beat him to the treasure on my last adventure), and then slinks off into the shadows.
|My element is 20% cooler!|
As I get outside the tavern, it seems that the weather actually IS worse than it is in England. The lightning is striking the ground, hailstones the size of grapefruits are destroying the buildings... It's a right mess. Being the heroic type, I rush to help as many people as I can into the tavern, where they can buy me more drinks be safe. As I do, I notice that the book tells me to test my skill, but to add 2 to my score if it's Stormday - it seems I'm right about how the days work in this game. Neat.
I charge in to the rescue, and after saving as many people as possible, I notice that the lightning has seared the door loose from the cage of a travelling circus. The fantasy world's version of an escaped lion is on the loose - a manticore! Thankfully, the owner has had the thing de-venomed, so I manage to chop it up without too much difficulty. Anyone who remembers The Shamutanti Hills will recall just how tricky a fully-fledged manticore can be if it's got its venom ready to go. With that one down, I turned and headed into the heart of the storm.
|Perfectly normal British weather actually.|
|The problem is that once you've|
seized the lightning, you don't
know what to DO with it.
The mages refuse to help me. I suppose I'm too heroic to torture them for information, too. I storm out of the college, but as I leave, one of them catches up with me and tell me exactly what is going on. He explains that the other mages are simply too ashamed to help me out on this, because the person responsible for this mess was actually one of their own - The brass fish seems to belong to a mage by the name of Balthazar Sturm.
With a name like Sturm, he was destined to either be a Bond villain or an evil weather mage - and sure enough, he's an evil weather mage! After being chucked out of the college, he's sworn revenge on the world and plans to use the power of the elements to do so. Which is just lovely. Titan does seem to breed quite the large number of insane megalomaniacs, doesn't it? You'd think that with the number of evil warlocks, power-hungry kings and sinister necromancers that prowl the lands, a college of mages would be a bit more strict on their entry requirements!
|I need to fight the elements? ALL of them??|
I have four possible places to go, one for each element. In each area, there is an artifact that will let me defeat one of the elementals that are within Sturm's grip. First up, I head to the local market and grab a few useful items, namely a wyrskin cloak and a grappling rope. I have the choice of going to the deep sea, into a volcano, beneath a mountain, or to the windy plains. With my happy potion of non-drowning in my backpack, I decide to head off to face down to the port and see if I can find a ship to take me out to sea for a while.
I manage to book passage on a boat with a rather fetching lady captain, as she's the only person who will venture out into the sea due to the recent weather chaos. Although I'm an adventuring swordsman and she's a pirate lady in leather britches, I don't ever have the option to ask her if she'd like to walk my plank. So instead we sail for a while before the ship is beset by a chilly fog. But not just a regular fog - a fog elemental, who has been causing much of the recent problems. Is fog an element? Who cares - like the ice elemental earlier, I make short work of him.
|I'd ask her if she'd want to swab my|
deck, but I'm afraid she'd stab me
I make for a nearby cave. Clearing out the rabble of sea life which decided to try to attack me, I figure that this seemed a good bet. The spongy, tongue-like floor under my feet is ominous, as are the giant pointy teeth-like rocks. Those are never good signs. Sure enough, I've strolled right into the mouth of a leviathan. If Ian Livingstone were writing this, I'd be looking at insta-death right now - but in this book, I'm given the chance to roll to escape, and I manage to escape before the giant sea monster noms me for lunch.
In the rotting carcass of a nearby whale, I find a rather nice dragon shield, which I'm hoping will be of use in later realms. I press on, and soon enough I do indeed catch sight of the temple. My goal is in sight - but the temple is not unguarded. I first need to hack my way through one of the most ancient foul entities in the FF books - the Abyssal Horror. The description for this creature is just fantastic, and really makes this fight sequence feel epic. Once again, the monster's given a load of special attacks to use on me, so this could be a pretty tough fight.
|My undersea adventure!|
Only with less mermaids...
Having slain the ancient one, I find my way into the temple. Standing before the great statue of Hydrana, I am asked to choose which item I should take in order to harness the element of water. The statue holds a gold trident, surely the item that would harness the element of water? No, don't be silly - the item I want is the little seashell that's sitting at the bottom of the statue's plinth. Yeah, I'm not so easily fooled - if it's made of gold, just leave it where it is.
I grab the shell, and as I try to slip it into my pockets, the water forms into three maidens. It seems that the Abyssal Horror was not the only guardian of the relic. The three Naiads ask me why I want to take the item. I calmly explain to the Naiads why I need to raid their temple of useful items, and because I'm such a lucky chap, they give me their blessings, as opposed to killing me for defiling their holy ground or anything. Phew, a good luck roll can really make all the difference.
I head back to the ship... hey, remember that giant monster from earlier? The one who almost swallowed me? Well, guess who's back for another round! This monster is a leviathan, and it certainly is going to live up to its name. This combat is pretty tough, it has a mammoth 20 stamina, and it's only because I lucked out on my skill roll that I'm able to eventually drag its stamina down to a manageable level. It didn't have any special attacks, thankfully, resting on its huge stamina score to be the real cause of trouble.
|Earth! Fire! Wind! Water!|
And some other thing...
I decide to head to the Howling Plains, hoping to be able to tackle the 'air' section of the game. The trip south takes two days. On the way, I'm reminded of another useful thing that the system of days does here - it allows me to regenerate health at a level of one point per day. I was six health points below my initial stamina, so by snacking on one meal and counting on both days' travel time, I was able to get my health back up to full pelt. Very useful.
On my way, a village asks me for help. The chaotic weather has lead to flooding, and as a result their local dam is now filled to dangerous levels. Without my help to relieve the pressure on their dam, it may break. Helping them out requires a pair of skill and luck tests, which I manage to pass, although I'd have personally liked the chance to flood the village entirely, simply for a bit of a laugh. I'm a rather evil man at heart, I think. For my help, the villagers give me a quantity of food and gold, and the feeling that I've done a good service. A nice feeling, but in the whole I'd rather have drowned the whole lot of them. That would teach them for being unable to work their own damn dam!
The air element section is not easy. It is straightforward though. The book requires me to navigate a ravine, choosing which pathways through chasms I travel. Each decision I made brought me into a fight sequence with another monster - first a dust devil, then a pack of vultures, and finally a birdman. By now my stamina was running rather low, so I had to dig in to my reserves of food in order to survive. I think this is what you'd call 'running a gauntlet'. Maybe I just chose my directions poorly.
|The keeper of the element of|
air, some 80 years ago
In my hopes that he'll respect my honesty, I humbly tell him that I do not know the answer. I mention this because the book also gives me the option of attacking him with my sword, but I choose not to do this. I probably should have, because for my lack of ability to solve maths puzzles, the keeper banishes me from his sight, hurtling me out of the ravine. I will have to hope that this game can be solved without the artifact of air.
I'm pretty nervous about that. I mean, in most FF books, if you're missing the special items that means you're pretty much dead. I'm given the option of heading right to Sturm's fish (damn, I love the idea of flying around in a giant fish) right now. But I instead decide to press on with more of the elemental realms. My logic here is that if I can recover at least most of the items, then the ones I'm missing may take care of itself - a la The Seven Serpents. It's a long shot, I admit, but I'm going to take it.
|Nom nom nom.|
The fleeing people are suddenly thrown into attack as a monster attacks - a giant tunnelling worm. Not the kind of giant worm I fought during Temple of Terror though, I imagine this one as being more like the beasties in Tremors. The first of those movies were good, but the sequels... urgh... and the tv series, even worse... Still, better than the Highlander tv series by a long shot. Sorry, I'm going off on a tangent here.
The landscape here is worth note - the hot rock from the volcano (oh yeah, I'm going to a volcano - it's a fire elemental landscape, what do you expect?) mixes with the local river, and creates a landscape dotted with crystals. That's so much more exciting than the ravines of the previous locale, and I'm very impressed. I manage to book passage on a raft to take me right to the volcano, but fate may be against me on this - by the time I arrive, it is now Fireday. Oh dear.
|No Richie, not THAT kind|
of flaming bat...
I manage to put my grapple hook to good use in scrambling over a chasm, and find a rather curious fire crystal. I pocket it, and press on deeper into the suitably-named fire caves, which grow hotter and hotter as I progress. I come across a couple of rather neat monsters - Bone Fires, the reanimated skeletal remains of previous adventurers which have been consumed by fire. Very neat, and made more difficult due to the buff they get from the day of the week, but I hack them apart and press on.
Delving deeper and deeper into the volcano, the heat is becoming quite deadly. I didn't know it at the time, but it seems that I was built to resist the high temperature. Between my tattoo, the shield I found under the sea and the cape I bought at the market when I was back in town near the start of the adventure, I manage to survive the worst of the damage. Finally, when the heat is so blistering that I'm barely able to go on, I see my goal - an alter to the great fire elements. Unfortunately it's right down in the heart of the volcano.
No problem, I'll just use my trusty rope and grapple down. My rope hasn't let me down before, surely it won't let me down here. I mean, it's not as if rope can catch fire or anything. I latch it in place and lower myself down over the ledge, into the pits of the lava.
And thus ends my adventure.
With a variety of locations and a non-linear path through them, I'd have loved this book when I was a kid. It is, however, very combat-heavy. I fought a manticore, an ice elemental, a fog elemental, reef monsters, a giant worm, an abyssal horror, a leviathan, a sand elemental, a dust devil, a pack of vultures, a birdman, a tunnelling worm, a blisterwing, two bone fires and two magma beasts. The legend of Wee Fat Jimmy will live on forever as one of the most prolific monster-killers of all time. Stitch that, lad!
The game also tends to steer clear of instant-death paragraphs, and I suspect the one I fell upon was one of the very few. It gives you a lot of chances to roll to avoid horrible fates. The day system works very nicely, buffing your enemies but also giving you limited health regeneration to balance out the challenge.
I'm extremely happy with this adventure, and would encourage other FF fans to give it a shot. It keeps a lot of the best things about Bloodbones and Howl of the Werewolf, almost as if they were written by the same author or something (heh heh). Just... try to roll a good skill score, okay?
In other news, my colleague Gallactrix has been digging up that which man was not meant to know in his recent adventures (I wonder if they ever made any Call of Cthulhu gamebooks), and the illustrious Mr Lloyd has come to some interesting conclusions in his thoughts on gamebook difficulty. And when a game does get too difficult, you may wind up facing the much-beloved instant death sections, which this tumblr page is documenting and is definitely worth a look. And lastly, there's this guy's blog, who I'm sure has no relation to this particular FF book at all.