Saturday, 23 March 2013

Knights of Doom playthrough

Written by Jonathan Green, artwork by Tony Hough

This book casts you as one of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, established around 1129 and quickly rising in wealth and power. Operating heavily in the holy lands following the Crusades, they grew in power due to their establishment of financial lending in many regions. Soon becoming an economic threat to church and crown due to their considerable wealth, they were forcably dissolved under order of King Philip IV of France in 1307 under charges of heresy, and their iconography would later be incorporated into Freemmasonry and.... oh wait, no, I'm a different kind of Templar Knight.

I get confused easily when things have the same names as other things, y'see.

Anyway, this is another of Jonathan Green's books, so I expect a lot of promise and experimentation in it. On the other hand, it's fifty-sixth in the series so I expect that the editors didn't even glance at it in order to help debug any of it. I don't know what to think of it yet, except that it has a gnarly cover showing a big red puppy dog. If I had a puppy like that, I'd call him Mister Tiddles.

The stats are all normal, and like most FF books by this point it has an honour and time score to keep track of. And you also get to pick four special skills, I have chosen Battle Tactics, Riding, Tracking, and the ability to banish evil spirits by thumping random peasants on the street and screaming "The power of Christ compels you!" until they run away in terror.

The actual Knights Templars
The book starts with King Rannor announcing that he is dying, because his kingdom is ill, and he is bound to the land. This is a frankly brilliant idea. I think all leaders should be mystically bound to the land they rule. That way, David Cameron would wake up each morning to find that the bank accounts of himself and his other rich-boy chronies kept vanishing into thin air. The reason that the land is ill is because Belgaroth, the evil undead knight of evil evilness, has come back from the dead and released all kinds of mischief, summoning rampaging orcs and blocking out the sky and tying the laces of your shoes together. Y'know, usual undead knight mischief.

No sooner has the king finished announcing that what this terribly important and vital mission needs is one lone warrior to save everyone (I'm the Jack Bauer of the Fighting Fantasy world, you see), than a giant ghostly horseman flies into the chamber and screams "Beware!" at us. I leap up and pelt it with holy water until it buggers off and leaves us alone. The king is to relieved that he does something that nobody else in these books has ever done before - gives me the key to his royal armoury so that I can take as much free stuff as I want!

Sadly I can only manage to carry a rather nice shield and helmet, which I take with me as I get onto my trusty steed and ride off into the sunset. Before long I come across a crowd of discontented beggers and lepers, who get angry when they see me riding along with some rather shiny armour. They opt to try to attack me, so I ride through them to escape, but I'm given a penalty to my honour score. Which is odd, because I personally consider it more honourable to choose the option which would result in NOT chopping apart some defenseless beggers.

My character is evidently quite competent in terms of knowing what he's doing, as he figures out all by himself that he needs to find an old elven spear in order to defeat the forces of darkness. The book simply states this as a matter of course, which is a really nice point. Saves from a lot of wandering around aimlessly and gives the main character a sense of being able to handle himself and of having a good amount of experience. I settle down and make camp for the night, during which I am attacked by a spectral assassin who I quickly defeat with a hefty dose of going all Max Von Sydow on it.

I soon ride into a town, and my character states that there is a local sage who may be useful to talk to, if he isn't too busy talking to the animals as he tends to do. I get directions to his little hovel in the woods, but by the time I get to him I find that he's been murdered, which saves me from making yet more Radagast jokes. His spirit tells me that the clerics are evil (boy, I could have told you that! I still remember the clerics of beat-you-around-the-head from a few gamebooks earlier!) and I get the chance to search his house for clues. I manage to grab a small bit of glass and a bit of wood carved like a boar, then read a little book about cockatrices, before the sage's pet own chases me out of the store.

As I leave the wood, I'm met by a rider who invites me to hang out at his lord's castle, where I'll have a nice warm bed and a banquet to chow down on, on the condition that I kill a giant boar that's been bothering them. I take him up on the offer, and during the banquet I meet an old mage who offers to read my fortune. I hand him some coins over a few mouthfulls of roast duck, and he tells me that I should stop faffing around and get on with my mission. Good advice, that.

The next day I ride off into the forest and track down the giant boar, which I make short work of due to my tracking skills. Taking its tusk as a trophy, I'm about to head back to the lord's castle when I hear some creepy voices off in the middle of the forest. I find a mischevious cleric who seems to be playing silly games with an amulet that lets him control plants. I chop down his thorn elemental, kick him around a bit and nick his magical amulet. In reward, the lord of the land gives me a small task force of warriors that I can lead against the forces of darkness. Finally, someone with some bloody sense in one of these books!

En route to the next village, I am attacked by a group of random murderers, but they're easily dispatched and I get to the town. The next day we hit the marketplace, hoping to find some lead on the elven spear I'm meant to uncover. I find a fortune teller, who reads some tarot cards and tells me that I need to go and rescue the prisoner of the Wicker Man. I don't much want to tangle with Christopher Lee in a dress, and I'm even less keen to meet Nicholas Cage in a bear costume, but whatever the fates have in store for me are not for me to judge. I spend the last of my money on a small mirror at the market, in case I meet a cockatrice along the way (hey, you never know what you might run into in one of these books, there could be one hidden in a bag of treasure or something!), and ride out of town.

As I make my way out of town, I am attacked by two men in a dragon costume. Actually, I kinda pick the fight, to be entirely honest. You see, they're putting on a bit of a pantomime, and their friends are busy pickpocketing the audience while they're watching the dragon. I walk up to it and tell it to stop their foul deeds, at which point the men in the dragon costume shoot fire out of its nose at me. I'm so confused that all I can do is hit it with my sword until it breaks. Sadly the rest of the crew escape.

At the edge of town, there's a large cathedral. I quickly figure out that the cleric who was playing evil plant games was a member of this particular church, and I decide that this seems a good place to waste some more time. I walk on up to the front door and knock on it, demanding that they let me in so that I can investigate their weird freaky cult. They then do the unimaginable - drag me into a basement and try to sacrifice me to their weird otherworldly god. Why does this kind of thing keep happening to me?

But yeah, they chain me down and summon a powerful monster called Darkthorn. I manage to escape from the chains, but my awesome exorcism power doesn't work on Darkthorn. Running out of ideas, I try using the plant control amulet on it, but it seems that using the magical power of the evil elder gods own minions against it doesn't do much, except make it very happy. It rips my limbs off. And then eats me. It truly is a mean, green mother from outer space.

Knights of Doom didn't have any massive editing problems after all. In fact, it ran very smoothly. The artwork complimented the atmosphere nicely, and it keeps up the sense of tension throughout. It's a very well built gamebook and one I'd definitely recommend picking up if you can find a copy. I didn't get half as far as I'd want in it, but for a first playthrough I think I did alright. I'd rate this very highly, and definitely consider it a solid read. If it had come earlier in the series, I think it would have garnered far more attention as a strong piece, but tragically it was published rather late in the line and was therefore overlooked. So I'd urge you not to overlook this one, too.

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