Forest of Doom is one of those early books that tried something new.
Think about it like this - the first two FF books were dungeon crawls. One takes place in the dungeon of Firetop Mountain, the other changes the general design and goes for a castle, but they're still dungeon crawls. This is the first book that tries to create an outdoors area. It is a mostly cosmetic change though, with pathways through the forest acting like hallways, and clearings acting as rooms, so it's still a long way to go before it develops to the type of vast landscapes like you see in the Sorcery! series, but it's a first step in that direction.
I don't remember much about this book from when I was a kid. I've read other playthroughs of it, but deliberately avoided picking up clues. The story is straightforward enough - somewhere in the forest, two halves of an ancient dwarven hammer are hidden. Find them. Then go and get a pint at the local pub.
I know that this has been pointed out before, but your character in this book does immediately come across as a borderline psychopath. It's nobody's fault really, the writing tries to make him seem like an excitable adventurer. The problem is that it goes a little overboard - the introduction sequence talks just a little bit too dramatically about how you have rejected society and wander the wastelands with only your sword for company, dreaming at night of murdering green-skinned people, getting thrills from killing 'evil' men... the first choice the book offers you is if you want to attack an old man or not. These are not the actions of a heroic individual, these are the actions of a crazy person.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves, let's back up a little. One night, while making camp, I stumble across a dying dwarf who tells me about the hammer that's lost in the forest, and that his people desperately need the hammer in order to save his people from an army of trolls. He tells me to go and speak to Yaztromo, the wizard who lives in the forest, who later goes on to appear in several other Fighting Fantasy books. I assume that I agree to this quest because I'll be able to kill things along the way.
|You have my axe! |
And my other axe!
And my hammer!
The next clearing contains a hole in the ground. As much as I try to avoid the urge to dive into random holes in the ground, this time I just can't resist. As the Gatekeeper in the board game 'Atmosfear' would say, I head into the black hole. Inside, I find a giant Stingworm, which I kill. There's not much in the hole, except for some gold coins and a potion which, when I drink, increases my attack ability. This proves useful very soon.
My next 'clearing' is a small cave, in which I can see a large ogre. The picture looks more like a traditional mountain man, but the book says it's an ogre, so it's an ogre. Either way, ogre or not, it seems to be tending to a goblin which it has caught and locked in a small cave. Being a violent psychopath, my only options here are to react violently, so I'm unable to talk to the ogre, instead running over and stabbing him to death.
|A mountain man. |
Clearly not an ogre.
Emerging from the cave, I am quickly caught by a hunting snare. I cut myself down with no injury to myself, and continue on my way. Eventually I spot a small hut up in one of the nearby trees. I climb on up, hoping to meet some friendly elves. Instead I find a giant ape man. Gorilla Grodd smacks me with a bone a few times before I kill him. At least, I think that's what happened - this might just be a case of being an unreliable narrator and I may have just butchered the poor defenceless man in his sleep, that would certainly be in keeping with character.
However I did it, I claim the ape man's bracelet of skill for myself, which boosts my skill by one point. I'm now pretty impressive, although my stamina is flagging a little. I head through the forest's undergrowth until I'm being bitten and snapped at by some especially nasty plants. I clug down some potion of plant-control (which I'm fairly sure is the origin of Poison Ivy in the 'Batman Forever' movie) and command the vines to quit bothering me.
The next clearing boasts one of my least favorite types of fantasy creatures - a centaur. I hate these things. I resist the urge to attack him, and instead actually have the option of speaking to him! He gives me a ride across the river in exchange for some gold - a decent deal, because river water shouldn't be that shade of greenish-brown... I make camp for the night on the other side of the river.
|I was just going to make a centaur |
joke about this character, but when I
find gay porn on page 1 of Google
image search, I just kinda lose all hope
for the human race instead...
Trudging along towards the west, I eventually come to a small well. I throw a coin in, and the book tells me that I wish for more gold coins. I decide that wishing won't make this happen, I'm going to need to climb down into the well and find the coins! I head into the well, and emerge about half an hour later significantly richer and bathed in the blood of many goblins. It seems that the little people had set up their own network of homes in the tunnels under the well, where they grew rich on the gold that people threw down there - until I slaughtered the whole lot of them. Feel a bit guilty now.
Y'know, I know that other FF bloggers have pointed this out before, but it bares repeating again - you really come across as a demented serial killer in this book. I mean, I just massacred an entire community of tiny, mostly weak little gremlins... Remember those jokes I made at the start of the book about how your character is written a bit strangely? Well it has really panned out to work EXACTLY like this in practice. Maybe this is what they were going for when they wrote it - "The slash-happy adventures of Mr Murderey McStabYourFace". If so, this is really well executed in the murderous choices you're given throughout the story.
While you've been reading that, for instance, I've been lathering some healing mud on my wounds and butchering a Pterodactyl. A bloody Pterodactyl! You thought they were extinct? Well they are now! That was the last one I've just hacked apart. Hope nobody will miss them.
|Your character in 'Forest of Doom'|
THE BALROG. Well, maybe not the Balrog of Tolkien's story, but any whip-wielding fire demon is a balrog to me. It's a pretty tough fight even by the standards of the book, but I manage to kill it with the help of my newfound shield. With that, I hurry out of this strange area and get back to the sunlit upper world.
I continue through the forest, until I find a small house. Sadly I don't have a silver key to unlock the door, and I don't want to risk trying to force my way in because that never works well in these books (running into doors has a tendency to hurt me as much as being hit by a sword, for some reason), so instead I push on through the undergrowth until I see something especially sparkly in the leaves and debris. I lean down to examine it, when all of a sudden a giant dragon flies down and shoots fire at me.
It misses, but the book then tells me that I have a weird compulsion to play that brass flute I found at the being (which is actually a wyvern, not a dragon - is there much difference really?) I must be honest, that's not really what my first compulsion would be if I seen a giant fire-breathing flying lizard. I wouldn't be thinking "Hey dude, want to jam a few tunes?", I'd more likely be thinking "Aaaaaaaagh oh my god run! Save us!" but I suppose my character knows best. Perhaps one of the voices in his head told him to play the flute. One of the many, many voices....
|A terrifying dragon, from a children's education|
show that nobody out there will remember. Be afraid!
And with that, I stumble through the tree line and see the village of Stonebridge ahead of me. I have survived the forest... But have only part of the hammer! Oh no, I have failed... Except I have not. The book gives me the chance to travel around the forest and start over from the beginning. And this is where things get very, very peculiar.
"Hello" I say to Yaztromo. He stares at me, not a speck of recognition in his eyes. "It's me, again." I say.
"Do I know you?" he asks.
"Yes" I say, "I was that guy who was searching for the hammer?"
"Young man, I have never seen you before in my life" says the wizard.
|Powder of Levitation in action|
And so I journey through the forest once again, this time resolute to choose every different option possible this time in the hopes that it will in some way aid me in my travels. I manage to get my pockets picked by a thief who I've been kind enough to release from a trap. I kill a shape-changer (the same one pictured on the books cover, I expect). I eventually stumble across and kill a wild boar, whose gold nose ring helps refill my supply of gold. And as I camp overnight I am attacked by vampire bats, who I fend away with garlic.
So yes, I travel through the forest again. This time I manage to find a silver key along the way. When I find my way to the locked hut again, I unlock the door and find a stairway that leads down into a tomb. There is a sarcophagus there, but I am unable to open it without something called 'powder of levitation', which Yaztromo didn't have for sale. Aside from that, the adventure plays out mostly the same - I avoid the wyvern, I give my junk items to the bandits, I leave the forest...
And I go back to the start to begin the adventure again. Yes, I played through this adventure three times. My skill had been buffed to the point where combat was easy, and by gulping down the potion of luck that you start the adventure with, my luck score was suitably high enough and... by the third time I went through it, I was getting a bit sick to death of Forest of Doom, to be honest.
|The book is in a time warp, so.....|
I kill a werewolf when I make camp that night, and the next day I arrive back at the silver key house. You can kinda tell that I write these blog posts after having played through the book, because finding these items were important. Everything else was just wandering around blindly, hoping to find some kind of clue or some useful item or other... And yes, I played through this book three times!
But it all paid off in the end. Because in that tomb inside the house, I find a ghoul, who I easily dispatch with Yaztromo's holy water. And inside the tomb, beside the ghoul... I find the head of the hammer.
If this book was Warlock on Firetop Mountain, I'd have failed. If it were City of Thieves, I'd have failed. But no. Forest of Doom, in letting you start over from the beginning, let me read those fabled words, 'turn to 400'.
The dwarves of Stonebridge are overjoyed that I bring the hammer to them. They give me a golden helm, and fill by backpack with gems. And throw a massive feast and celebrate. No doubt I will butcher them all in their beds that very night. But for now, that doesn't matter, because....
I HAVE WON!!
I know that it's rather a cheap way to have done it, but it's my first victory since I started this blog, so let me enjoy it a while, eh? In retrospect, I think that this may be why Ian Livingstone wrote in this kind of feature to restart the book. It's not a fool-proof way to play repeatedly though - eventually your luck score will get so low that you're unable to restart and die en route back to the beginning of the adventure. From a gameplay perspective, it's interesting to see this type of feature.
But I could continue to analyse this book for hours, would that even interest anyone here? Point being, this book came out before the FF books even had a decisive formula, and it was already pushing to develop something new and explore different locations for the hero to adventure. There's a whole load of new ways for puzzles to work, and the item system takes the place of the magic system from Citadel of Chaos in a very curious way, reminiscent of the inventory system in video games. If you're so inclined, you can see the way in which elements from this book were later developed in City of Thieves and so on.... but who cares? I won! I WON!!
(If you've enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Justin MacCormack's two bestselling collections of horror stories - "Return to 'Return to Oz'", "Cthulhu Doesn't Dance" and the young adult coming-of-age comedy "Diary of a gay teenage zombie". His newest novel, book one of "Twilight of the Faerie", is available now)