Saturday, 21 July 2012

Stormslayer playthrough

Written by Jonathan Green, Artwork by Stephen Player

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
Good fortune seems to be with my new set of dice today (I dug out some of my old pretty chessex dice from my D&D days) as I've rolled up 12 skill, 12 luck and 20 stamina. It is also Fireday. Yeah, the book asks me to take track of what day of the week it is, I presume because certain elemental powers are stronger on certain days, or some such.

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!
I hear the rumble of thunder, and a storm opens up above the town. Hailstones wrack the rooftop of the tavern, turning the previously sunny warm day to a deluge in under a minute. Now, here in England, this is perfectly normal weather. In fact, the exact same thing happened last week - which is why I caught a cold and got laid up in bed for a whole day! But still, rather than just shrugging and downing another pint, I decide to do the heroic thing and actually investigate. After all, the book tells me that there's a travelling circus in town, so I wouldn't want any of the animals or children to be seriously hurt.

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.
In the heart of the storm, I find the entity that is causing the chaos - an ice elemental. It has some pretty nice attacks, but because I'm wearing a sun amulet and because it's Fireday, the elemental is weakened and I'm able to make short work of it. Quite a stroke of good luck, there. That's two monsters down already, phew. So sure enough, once the ice element's knocked to pieces, the storm subsides, indicating that it was the elemental's work after all.

I'm certainly enjoying the book so far, and my enjoyment is perked a bit more when I notice something floating in the sky following the storm - a large brass fish. How odd. I just can't resist a brass fish, I decide that I absoloutely need to get one. Maybe I can ride around town on it. Be honest - if YOU had a brass fish, you'd ride it around town as well! This fish, though, is evidently the vessel of the person responsible for the elemental's attack.

The problem is that once you've
seized the lightning, you don't
know what to DO with it.
I head north, hoping that one of my old friends at the mage's college will know more about this curious fish. That's another reference to my character's past, and I'm really enjoying them. It gives a lot of depth and flavour to this story. I travel north to a large city, the book telling me to be sure to mark two days have passed. That's another point I quite like, as it serves to give the adventure a sense of scale. I also learn along the way that the storm was not an isolated incident - indeed, the weather seems to be out of whack in many parts of the land.

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??
Being possibly the only helpful mage in the city who's going to help out, the chap who's told me all of the above then offers to help me against one element. But only one. Oh gee, thanks - I guess that if I get eaten by an earth elemental because you didn't give me more than one useful item, you won't shed any tears, eh? Bloody mages! Well, reasoning that the dragon tattoo will help me against either fire or air, I choose water, and the mage gives me a potion that'll let me breath underwater.

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
The ship comes to a halt, and our captain informs me that somewhere far in the depth below us are the ruins of the Temple of Hydrana. I chug down the underwater potion as if it were pepsi, then dive into the ocean. Sinking all the way to the ocean floor, I then realise that actually finding the temple is a bit more difficult than I'd hoped. Yeah, you'd be amazed how difficult it can be to navigate when you're at the bottom of the ocean. It can be difficult to navigate in such a dark and three-dimensional area. Where was I to go?

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...
No problem. Not for an adventurer like me. I knock it down without breaking a sweat. Damn, a skill of 12 is pretty useful here.

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...
Phew, two giant sea-dwelling horrors in one day. Not bad, eh? Sadly the ship captain wasn't too happy that I hadn't brought her back any treasure. Sorry m'dear, but my main goal was the relic, and I've got it. We head back to port. All seems well for now, but I've three more elements to go! And if we don't stop Sturm, he'll capture all of the other elements and defeat Titan's greatest champion, Captain Planet!

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 Howling Plains are aptly named. The book describes them as a desolate, wind-swept region. I pass through them, and soon encounter yet another elemental to bar my way - a sand elemental. I manage to dispatch it, and in doing so I rescue a man who tells me of a great drought in his homeland, caused by the rampaging elements. I am rather envious of this man, because he rides around on a hot air balloon. This seems a lot of fun, but no matter how much I plead, he won't let me ride in it.

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
Eventually I manage to make my way to the tallest peak in the ravine. Clambering to the top, I find an old man, a sagely keeper of great wisdom. I ask him for his aid, and like most old sages, he responds with a riddle. It's one of those awful type of lateral thinking maths riddles which I'm notoriously awful at, the kind where he asks me "x amount of people each have x amount of friends, who in turn have x amount of friends, how many people are there altogether?" and I try to count. Given that the answer I arrive at is 400, it's a safe bet I was miles off!

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.
I head off into the drought-assailed lands, where the sun beats down relentlessly, hoping to recover the artefact of fire. People are leaving the lands in huge numbers, as they are unable to grow their crops. The book gives me the option of joining the exodus, essentially a 'do you want to back out now' chance, but I am not to be moved from my path!

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...
Once I get into the volcano itself, it's a little disappointing. The general structure is the same as the ravines, with choices between going left or right to get to your goal, and monsters interspersed therein. There description is very nice though, with the heat causing a deduction of your skill (unless you have a dragon tattoo, which I have) and the prose is suitably lavish, describing the flames licking through cracks in the walls and so on. I manage to slay one blisterwing (a fiery kind of bat) and check out its nest, only to be pecked on the face by its offspring.

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.

I'm feeling pretty cocky so far, so when I come across a river of molten lava, I decide to be a jammy git and jump from rock to rock in order to cross it. As I do, I am attacked by lava beasts... holy crap, there's a lot of combat in this book. I mean, this is very combat heavy. Maybe this is why it's taking me so long to get through it. If you had a low skill score, I suspect this book would be damn impossible. Still, the variation in monsters is good. Although they are given the ability to push me into the lava, I manage to slay them and cross the river without too much trouble.

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.

Splash
Sizzle, says the rope. Oh crap, I say. Splash, says the lava as I fall into it.

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.

7 comments:

  1. Excellent read. It is a shame that you were killed off as the climax is great and what is good is that none of the elementals are essential - you just have more fights if you don't have them. Jonathan Green really toned down the lethality after Bloodbones.

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    1. Wish I'd have figured that out, I'd have probably skipped the fire element entirely and gone right to the fish!

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    2. Fire is the hardest one, if I remember correctly.

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    3. You do remember correcly :).

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  2. I've died going after Fire twice myself. Got eaten by the Leviathan on two other occasions. It's not an easy adventure, but nothing like as killtastic as Mr. Green's earliest gamebooks.

    As regards your musing on 'Call of Cthulhu' gamebooks, I've never encountered any, but the two 'Forbidden Gateway' gamebooks by Ian & Clive Bailey are very Lovecraftian in tone. One set in an isolated Welsh mining village, the other ranging from the British Museum to an Egyptian pyramid, with a couple of stately homes and an airship in between. Insanity is at least as likely an outcome as death. Exasperatingly difficult in places, but a lot of fun if you like that sort of thing.

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  3. This was highly entertaining. I can tell you really enjoyed this one, which is good as this is certainly Jonathan Green's easiest FF to complete. Seriously, I just flicked through Knights of Doom and counted something like 8 skill 12 fights. Ridiculous.

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  4. Wonderfully enjoyable post. :) Storms is the first FF book I've played and I enjoyed the choices and the characters and the combat right uptil the point I decided to tackle the volcano scene first. No characters, no dialogue, tons of lengthy multiple enemy combats and the only choices you get to make are 'you go down a tunnel, left/right?' over and over again. I eventually blundered into the Fire Elementals lair after having suffered a paragraph that reduced my Attack Strength to 1 (stay away from sulphurous gases kids) and since I hadn't collected all the crystals (because the dungeon was effectively random, there's no hints or anything), my Skill 9, Stamina 19 character was up against a Skill 12, Stamina 18 Elemental, while i was still statused.

    It ended badly. :)

    Any recommendations for a slightly easier first book for a newb?

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