Written by Andrew Chapman, artwork by Bob Harvey
Arrrr, shivver me timbers and swab the decks, and all that rubbish. You fight like a cow.
Before Armies of Death, there was Seas of Blood. A lot of the concepts are similar, in that you're in command of a large number of people, namely a pirate crew. Unlike the mind-numbingly awful Starship Traveller, this book does not require you to put together a set of stats for each member of your crew, though. Instead, it's happy to let you roll up your crew as if they were one being, with a surrogate skill and stamina score. I want to point this out nice and early, because it's damn good to see this progress in the series. Got to love it!
What the book gains in progress, it lacks in background and reason behind the story. You're a pirate captain, and you have a rival pirate captain called Abdul the Butcher, and you have both decided to have a contest to see which of you is going to be King of the Pirates. I suppose that back in the old days, pirates didn't have much to do with their time, so this was a good way to spend a quiet evening. That, and having sea battles with vikings. Hmm, who would win in a battle between ghost pirates and werewolf vikings.... Answers in the comments, please.
I name my character Seamus the Unwashed, and the contest begins. Abdul and his ship sail off out of view, and I order my ship (The Banshee) to head towards the local trading city of Lakash. We sail right into two warships, which proceed to beat the living snot out of my crew, and I quickly realise that this is going to be one of those 'roll some dice and hope you don't die too badly' books. Eventually we're able to take down the warships, who had a couple of gold coins between them (you'd think that massive ships of war would have more than just sixty gold coins) and decide to go somewhere less dangerous.
So I set course for the Rivers of the Dead. That doesn't sound dangerous.
This turns out to be a pretty good idea, because by the time I get there and decide to explore some of the gullies we find for loot, it's given the goblin hordes of the area enough time to launch a surprise attack on us. During the battle, Seamus is separated from his crew and falls into a hole in the ground, where he lands in a dungeon. Oh good, it wouldn't be a Fighting Fantasy book without a dungeon to get lost in!
Almost immediately I find a large door, which is sealed shut. There's a statue beside it, which I need to push in order to unlock the door. Doing so causes the statue to squirt poison at me, which causes me to repeat my catchphrase of "Why would anyone build something like that?" This is the Fighting Fantasy equivalent of having a front door that kicks you in the nuts when you knock on it.
I get into the next room, which has a large number of stones in the middle of the chamber. As I look closer at the stones, one of them comes to life and sprays acid on me. I sigh, roll my eyes and chop the little shit into pieces. Realising that I'm stuck in the depths of one of Gary Gygax's most nightmarish concoctions, I decide to just get out of the room as soon as possible.
I yank on the handle for the door, and it leads into a room with a large sarcophagus, inside of which I find a rather shiny helmet (I refuse to make any jokes this obvious) and about a hundred gold coins. I yank on another handle in the chamber to find a secret passage leading back up to the surface, where I reunite with the crew and head back to the ship. Where I will tell my crew all about the things I've tugged, all the secret passages I've explored, and all the helmets I've shined. Pirates need their hobbies, after all.
We then return to the heart of the book, which consists of deciding where you'd like to sail and then rolling dice to get there. I patrol the seas for a while looking for a merchant ship, but without any luck. We do find some wreckage, which contains some fine booze for the crew. We later encounter a rather nasty storm, and as we sail around to avoid it, we notice a merchant vessel at last. The crew charge on-board, which causes the captain to panic, sink his ship, and jump into the sea with all his gold. So much for the direct route.
At about this point, I'm given the chance to pop along to one of the small islands. We dock in a small inlet, and because we're getting rather hungry, decide to steal some cattle in order to make some burgers (opting for burgers made of cow, rather than the current fashionable trend of horse burgers that are all the fashion here in the UK). While we steal some cattle, a battalion of riders run over the hill towards us, and order us to bugger off the island, on the warning of the King of the Four Winds.
As we all sheepishly leave the island, the King of the Four Winds kicks up a massive storm which lasts for an entire week, causing our ship to be thrown around and stuck in the docks. We're unable to sail anywhere, because the King of the Four Winds guards his cows very jealously. For some reason. I kinda picture this King as a giant elemental being of air and mysticism, but we didn't get a chance to meet him. Instead, we're just left with no avenue to complete the challenge with Abdul the Butcher, so we quietly give up and spend the rest of our time lazing around in a local pub.
At this point I start to lose my patience with the book. I've been learning to play Blood Bowl lately, and if anyone has any tips for that or has a copy on Steam, do let me know if you'd like a match. I mention this because I'm getting rather bored with this book, which consists of sailing blindly from place to place and rolling dice and hoping that something interesting will happen.
So yeah, a bit of a let-down here. It could really have done with some more violence and morally dubious actions, something to put the blood into Seas Of Blood. I'm not saying that it was a bad book, it just never came across as particularly pirate-ey, and I found myself wanting to spend my Saturday scoring touchdowns and beating up elves instead.
(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)