Caverns of the Snow Witch is another of the games I never got a chance to play as a child. Not sure why, I'm sure it was just down to there having been other books I chose instead. Hell, I chose Island of the Lizard King over this when I was a kid... I need to find a copy of that, too. The system seems to be the standard FF bunch of skill, stamina and luck, without any additional stats or any differences (of which I have rolled up 7, 17 and 11, respectively - yeesh, low skill rating there. This won't end well), and the story seems to be pretty standard as well. Within the Icefinger Mountains, the Snow Witch is plotting evil things. So I need to go there and put an end to her nefarious schemes, preferably with a stern application of axe to head.
As the book starts, I am in the employ of a trader named 'Big Jim', whose caravans are travelling into the frozen north in order to barter with the locals. On the travel, we stumble across a small village which seems to have been butchered by a large creature, possibly a yeti. Big Jim offers me a bag of 50 gold to kill the beast. Fifty? Is that all? Come on mate, be a little more generous than that! I'd earned that much in my first hour or trudging through Deathtrap Dungeon! I return to the scene of the chaos in order to track down the beast. Following its tracks, I come to a crevasse in the mountainside. I decide to go around it, where I stumble across a mammoth. The mammoth then tramples all over me, because it has a skill of 10 and I have a mere 7.
|Not pictured - trampled adventurer|
|The savage yeti|
Oh yeah, remember that poor man who's lying bleeding to death in the snow as a result of being a yeti chew-toy? Well, he has a monologue to deliver to me first. He tells me of the snow witch, who is planning to entrap the world in an eternal winter. Thankfully the man has marked the entrance of her crystal caverns, which apparently hold far more treasure than that pathetic 50 gold pieces I've been offered so far. Normally I wouldn't care, because when this kind of things happen, we have four plucky earth kids and a lion who take care of things (don't expect too many Narnia references in this blog post - if you actually read much of Lewis' apologist christian work, it's pretty clear that the White Witch is either symbolic for the mythical Lilith or, if your interpretations are especially cruel, the Jews). So I guess without any lions around, it's up to me to save the world, again.
|The lions are on holiday, it's down to me to save the world|
I head left at the t-junction and decide to casually stroll right past one of the elven guards, who doesn't seem to object to me strolling into the dungeon at all. I'll have to remember this if I ever need to break out of prison - just nod to the guard and walk past casually. Given that taking the left corridor has served me well, I decide to keep at it by following the next left turn, but this instead results in my falling into an ice pit and taking some damage. So I'm stuck in the pit for a while, until a pair of goblins decide to pop along and throw me a rope. I climb out of the pit, whereupon the goblins decide to take me prisoner. While it may have been a good idea to sneak into the Witch's lair under cover as her prisoner, the book makes it quite clear that I will die if I do, so I opt instead to break open a can of kung-fu on these gobbos. After punching them repeatedly, I head back down the tunnel, presumably being quite careful to step over the ice pit this time.
The cave opens up into a puzzle room. There are two small pools in the room. One contains a spear, the other contains a sword. A frozen orc lays in the room, pointing at the sword. I find a poem carved on the wall telling me to choose one of them, "Sword or spear, strength or fear, how will you choose, win or lose." Right, we obviously need to pick one of these, and the riddle there is no help. The biggest clue is the orc, who could either by pointing towards the sword as if to say "I should have chosen that, but I did not and now I'm dead" or "That sword has done this to me, so do not choose it". But there's no indication as to which is which. The only real clue I have is that 'spear' kinda sounds like 'fear'...
I abandon this pointless and silly puzzle and head down the corridor, discovering a minstrel who is playing his harp and mourning that none of the foolish monsters in this dungeon appreciate his music. I leave this strange and silly man, and find my way into a large cavern which seems to double as a temple. There's a large number of the Snow Witch's minions bowing to her statue in worship, and I decide that the most convenient way through is to join them. My luck seems to run out at this point, because they immediately notice I'm not singing, and start to gang up on me. I can't fight them all off, so they drag me towards the centre of the temple and sic an ice demon on me. Even though it has ice breath, I'm able to crush it without too much difficulty and win the fear of the worshippers, who are too terrified to stand in my way.
|Oh no Pat Roach, you're a better actor than this!|
From that chamber, I head to the left through a tunnel, which is immediately sealed shut behind me with a portcullis. I find a door, which seems to be my only way out, so I'm rather glad to have that iron key from before, as otherwise I'd be trapped forever. I feel that I'm getting quite close to the end of the adventure, because my next challenge is one of the Snow Witch's personal guards, a crystal warrior. Indestructible unless I have the warhammer that I took from the trapper's hut earlier... oh, how lucky I have that! Yeah, so lucky... Sadly, I'm not quite so lucky in the actual combat, as the Witch's personal guards are far beyond my own combat abilities, and it proceeds to rip me into pieces with its crystal talons.
|The damn hammer is broken.|
Overall this is a fair but very challenging book. I love the woodcut-style artwork, and although the adventure is fairly linear, you feel that it covers a lot and takes you on quite an enjoyable ride. The sequence with the yeti hunt serves as a nice 'prologue' for the main dungeon crawl, giving it all a nice framing for the adventure.
The difficulty of the combat is fairly steep though, and even though it's fair in general if you make the 'right' choices, making the 'wrong' choice can be very harshly met at times, like when I ran into that happy charming mammoth. I get the impression that this is a book that demands a very high skill rating to be able to survive, though, but it is overall a fairly enjoyable story.
(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, "Twilight of the Faerie", is available now)