Written by Paul Mason and Steve Williams, artwork by Brian Williams and Leo Hartas.
The book was all but impossible to find when I was a kid, and is still relatively on the 'rare' side. It kinda comes as a companion to the 'Fighting Fantasy' book on introducing roleplaying, but doesn't quite take the idea to the extent that the Dungeoneer, Blacksand and Allansia trilogy do. It has a slightly whacky atmosphere not unlike the Sorcery books. It's a real unique beastie.
It has its own set of rules for different weapons, and some spells, and comes recommended for a troupe of three or four players. As you may remember, we had a lot of 'fun' the last time we played one of these games, so... oh god why am I doing this? And why does it give my players the ability to throw fire? This will not end well, I promise you!
This time around, Simon was unable to attend, so John and Brian were accompanied by Trev, one of my friends from university. Trev doesn't much care for roleplaying games so we kinda had to press-gang him into playing this. Nevertheless, we had a party of three hardy adventurers; Simon played as Bran, John took the role of Sinerus, and Trevor donned the mantle as Micky the Bat. I took the role of 'poor tragic fool', commonly known as the GM.
The game opens at Ragnor's tower, where the party has recently arrived to see a large crowd assembled. It appears that the Baron of the region has gone quite mad and is dancing around at the top of the tower. The play was then handed over to the players. Bran opted to try to climb up the tower, only to fall and injure himself. Micky took the logical decision to break down the door and get into the tower, while Sinerus stood back and shouted "Jump!" at the Baron.
Meanwhile, Micky broke into the tower and found the Baron's wife, who was tied to a chair with a bottle of spiders balanced on her head. One of the Reaver's jokes. Sinerus pointed and laughed. When the Baron's wife squirmed and broke the bottle, the gang stamped on a few of the spiders and then trudged upstairs to find a riddle box that the Reaver had left behind. At this point, there had been little apparent reason for the Riddling Reaver to cause the Baron to go mad and take a leap off his tower, but hopefully the box will explain all?
After decrypting the riddle, to find that the answer was rather obviously water, the crew throw the Riddler's box into the sea. I thump my head against the table for a while, and indicate that the box washes back up onto the shore, so that it can give them the three more riddles that the team has to figure out, which will send them all around the town to recover rare items. To help them out, the party find a young guide called Dappa, who is very wise in the ways of the city and can tell them the answers to the riddles...
Dragging Dappa around with them, the party head down to the docks, where they find a group of sailors have set up a makeshift gladiatorial pit and are challenging people to fight a minotaur that they've caught. Dappa indicates that the party need the minotaur's nose ring, and Sinerus jumps at the chance to murder a caged animal like this. He kills the minotaur without much trouble, and wins a bag of gold from the man who owns the pit.
Dappa then tells the group (between being punched in the ribs) that they need to go and find a keg of ale from a local pub. This causes the party to sneak into the back door of the 'Parrot and Cage' pub and steal three kegs of ale. They drink two of them, and then head to the next area that the bruised and bleeding Dappa indicates to them - to recover a weather vane in the shape of a ship from a local school.
The pupils at the school are rather wild, but once the players set fire to the school they are able to recover the weather vane without too much trouble. I'm wanting to punish the players after they leave the smouldering ruins of the school, so I have Dappa tell the players that they need to head to the local bath house for the next clue. Once they get into the lovely roman-age bath house, their gear is mysteriously stolen by the patrons and the troupe find their bath filled with electric eels.
The big problem with the section of the adventure that takes place on the boat, is that there's no clear goal or purpose. Adventurers are just expected to wander around and explore the ship, until such times as the GM wants to bring it all to an end. I suspect my party were growing a bit bored of this, as it wasn't quite as structured or clear as the previous city-bound section.
Washing up on the beach of what appears to be a deserted island, the troupe rest up for a while. It seems all quiet for a moment, until they see people hurtling through the air and into the sea. Not winged people, either. It seems much more as if they're being hurtled through the air. Which, to be fair, at this point in the Fighting Fantasy franchise isn't entirely unusual, and is kinda to be expected. Investigating, they find that a group of mutated lizard men are catapulting some explorers they've captured into the sea, for a laugh. The troupe hide in the bushes and watch. Micky chews on some popcorn.
And by 'rescue', I mean they tie the prisoner to a large stick and carry him around the island for a while. The prisoner, Waxley Speed, winds up being carried around by Sinerus, who uses the man-on-a-stick as an improvised weapon, beating up giant spiders, evil shamen and pygmie headhunters with him as they go. They then spend a good ten minutes dipping Waxley into a pit of quicksand. In many ways, I think Waxley would have been safer with the lizardmen.
Either way, Waxley's entire purpose at this point in the adventure is to be rescued by the characters, and then to lead them through the jungle to an old temple, where they are to recover an old relic. This particular section of the adventure is actually quite bland, giving only one pathway through the jungle. This is the 'Final Fantasy 13' segment of the adventure, you could say. It's also a bit of a polar opposite of the segment immediately before this one - while the ship segment had plenty to explore but no clear goal, this has a clear goal but no real exploration.
There's a secret to the temple. The secret, and I'll share it with you now, is that it leads into the gut of a giant otherworldly lifeform, an entity that existed before the dawn of the world. It is a thing of titanic proportions, and the adventurers are intended to explore each of its 'chambers' with the dawning horror that they are within a giant creature. The layout of this segment is pretty good, with the main chamber of the creature leading to a variety of side-rooms, spiralling out like spokes on a bicycle wheel. It takes the better half of an evening for the party to fully explore the giant's internal organs, hacking apart its various inner pieces. Sinerus makes a new hat out of part of its stomach lining, and in an effort to top this, Bran secures the horn from the minotaur he killed earlier to his forehead, so that he can kill people with his face.
As they emerge from the temple, the pendulum is promptly stolen from them by Wexley, who as it turns out was actually the calculating Riddling Reaver all along! Yeah, aren't you glad I didn't let them feed him to the quicksand earlier? This is meant to be quite a massive reveal, but my party had already pretty much guessed that this was going to happen anyway. Despite their best attempts to lay a cunning trap to ambush Wexley, I eventually have to tell them "Look, the book says that he steals the damn pendulum thing, so play along and stop trying to hit him with fireballs." Sinerus didn't complain about it though, because his player is an old-time Vampire the Masquerade roleplayer, who has played most of their adventures and is therefore used to being told "your character does exactly this-and-that because the big powerful NPC forces you to." But the others weren't too happy. This is what people call 'rail-roading', and it's something that a lot of roleplayers find utterly infuriating and complain about endlssly (which in turn infuriates and annoys their GMs).
By the time they get to the top of the waterfall, things have taken a turn for the bizarre. Plants have started turning different colours, and giant butterflies are chasing tiny dinosaurs all around the top of the mountain. Immediately, Micky grabs the mini-tyranosaurus and tries to feed the Jib-Jib that they found on the ship to it. Meanwhile, Bran meets a leprachaun. The wee Irish laddie promises to let the party into the Reaver's temple, if Bran can juggle some bottles for him. Naturally, this results in the bottles smashing all over the ground. Which in turn releases an angry genie, who chases the leprauchaun around... it's all very silly, isn't it?
The Reaver dives behind a door to his laboratory, and I'm very careful to show the party that the door is magic and only opens when it sees the Reaver's face. After trying to pick the lock, kick the door down, crash the door down with a makeshift battering ram, set fire to the door, and generally causing more damage to the walls around the door than the actual door itself, the party decide to explore the rest of the temple. They find a few Wheelies (a classically bizarre Fighting Fantasy villain), they find a few stuffed replicas of themselves (how wonderfully creepy) and set fire to the Reaver's dining room for no good reason.
Deep breathes, now...
The doorway leads down into the bowels of the temple, eventually leading to a large cavern. It's there that we find the Reaver, standing on a raised platform, in front of a large pool of strange water. He has the pendulum, which is floating in mid-air and... I don't know, he's doing SOMETHING with it, some kind of magical something. He's also got over 130 soldiers with him in the room, his own home-built replicant monster things, and a head's on fight is utterly suicidal. The party really don't stand a chance at all here. The book recommends that I go easy on the players here, because this is the climactic battle. But I don't GM like that. I run games like Call of Cthulhu, where a 'climactic battle' involves running away very fast unless you want to wind up dead, insane, or both. I anticipate the players to die horribly.
When the players get back into the cave, they find that there is no sign of the Reaver. Or the pendulum. Perhaps he is away, somewhere in the cosmos, planning something. Maybe. Or perhaps he just got bored and went on holiday.
And after all of this adventure, the players still have no idea why the Reaver killed the baron. And neither do I.
This is a weird adventure. If I think about it too much, it hurts my head. The main villain's goals are pretty much nonsensical, and the various encounters are all very strange. It has a nice variety of locations, and it does capture the spirit of early Fighting Fantasy games very nicely.
In terms of structure, it's very erratic. Which I guess is in keeping with the main theme of the book. Some of the areas are very linear, some are much less so. It feels like a bit of a prototype for the Advanced Fighting Fantasy series, and it's fair to say that AFF did it a whole lot better.
Still, I find myself having fond memories of this book already, even after having run the whole thing. It's a period piece in the truest sense of the word, capturing a fleeting moment in the Fighting Fantasy series before time moved on and changed how the series looked. It's Sorcery between friends, Clash of the Princes shared out among others. It's facepalmingly cheesy at times. It's innately nostalgic. It's worth reading. Maybe even worth playing, too.