Sunday, 12 June 2016

Masks of Mayhem playthrough

Written by Robin Waterfield, artwork by Russ Nicholson

So far I've been rather down on Mr Waterfield's work. I was, as I'm sure you'll remember, fairly unimpressed with Rebel Planet and Deathmoor. But I do have stronger memories about this book, because this is the ones that I actually owned as a kid. Specifically, this is one that I got at Hamleys on a holiday to London. That, and a very nice comic version of The Hobbit, which I still own to this day, and which is far far far superior to the recent film version. Having said that, so was the Rankin Bass animated film version. But I digress.

I also remember that I'd specifically been keeping an eye open for this book, and that it was either meant to be very difficult or very important, I'm not sure. Either way, it was one that I had been looking for, and I was glad to have found a copy of it. Nowadays though, I'm not so sure. All I know is that it has a very basic system (which I like) and a quest involving preventing an evil sorceress creating an army of golems. Or something.

So, as the ruler of the local kingdom, I'm asked to set my armies to defend the... oh no, of course not. No, I need to go off alone on yet another dangerous quest. Why am I doing this? Actually, the book does explain this. I've been advised to go off on my own with just a pointy sword and shiny hat, on the suggestion of my court mage, Ifor Tynin. Remember that name, I'll be discussing it later.

Our first obstacle is Lake Necros, which has possibly the friendliest name of any lake ever, except perhaps Lake Painful Death. The first thing I do is put together a raft and sail out into the river, only to be immediately eaten by a giant monster. Re-rolling my character (who turns out slightly stronger this time), I instead opt to ride around the edge of the river. While camping on the shore overnight, the giant kraken drags itself to the shore and tries to eat me, which necessitates much chopping of tentacles in order to get rid of the damn thing.

Y'know, you'd think that if the lake had a kraken in it, people wouldn't only notice it, but would do something about it. Even if that something was to just set it up as a tourist attraction. Anyway, slaying the kraken is such an impressive feat that the spirits of all the stupid sods he's killed rise from the dead to thank me and offer me assistance later on in the adventure. I wonder if my first character is among the group. Anyway, as much as I want an army of the undead to command, they insist on waiting until just the right section in the book before they'll do anything.

A few years ago I was on holiday to Dartmoor. At one point, while out in the moors exploring the tors, a vast shroud of mist fell all around us. We could barely see a few feet in front of us. I loved it, because I'm a gothy bastard, and proceeded to stagger around the place shouting "Heathcliff!" for about ten minutes. Anyway, the same thing happens in the book at this point. Although in the book, when my character explores one of the tors, he encounters an angry wraith who attacks him. Upon killing it, he leaves behind a rather nice sword.

As the mist lifts, I find my way to an old abandoned house. At least, I think it's abandoned, but while I sniff around the place, search through all the boxes and eat their dinner and generally do my best three bears impression, the inhabitant of the house finds me. Rather than being upset, he explains that he knew that I was coming because the voices in his head warned him about me. He then gives me a royal scepter which he seems to have been keeping hidden in the house. It's all quite confusing, and I back away out of the house very discreetly before turning away and running like all hell.

Past the ruined hut, and we enter a small region known as Fallow Dell, which is a group of small settlements overseen by a lord. I'm on my way to visit the lord of the Dell, when I'm beset by a group of drunks from the local pub. The book tells me that I deal with them using the 'art of fisticuffs', a term which I've only ever seen used by people who get beaten up by any fight they ever pick.

By the time I get to the lord's keep, it's quite late in the evening and he invites me to join him in the banquet hall, where I have some dinner. Meanwhile, the guards inform me that the belongings that they were storing in my room have been stolen by orcs. Wow, what a safe and reputable keep this lord manages! I head off alone to follow the thieves, following their trail, only to soon be surrounded by them and chopped apart. In retrospect, I should probably have waited for the lord to give me a guard or two.

I'd normally be happy to do a quick replay of this book, and continue from where I was, but I'm a little bit rushed at the moment and just don't have the time. This book is much better than some of Waterfield's other works, and I rather enjoyed it. There's nothing really special about it, but it's a solid enough piece. Except for one thing...

Remember the character I mentioned earlier, Ifor Tynin? Well, it turns out that later in the book, you're supposed to identify the person who has betrayed you, or something. I dunno, I'm working from memory here. Anyway, you're told that if you know who has betrayed you, you should know what paragraph to turn to. Turning there means that you're able to slay the traitor before he can assassinate you. There's no clues given as to who the traitor is, and even if you're able to deduce that it's Ifor, the book doesn't tell you the paragraph to turn to.

Of course, it's fairly infamous in Fighting Fantasy knowledge that you need to turn to paragraph forty, because you run the first and surname together to create I-forty-nin. Which seems so simple and easy, except... that because, when I was a kid and actually did get to that part, the 'nin' part of the name completely threw me off, and left me turning to paragraph 49.

Yes, I was that stupid.

(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)


  1. That stupid name also threw me off, grr. Why wasnt he called Ifor Tyler or something...

  2. I always thought it was 49 as well. Its the only thing I remember about this book, except for the fact that (I think) you actually had to FAIL a Test Your Luck roll at one point to finish the book!

    1. You don't have to fail a Luck test but you do have to make a very difficult roll. And you have to do something very counter-intuitive to even get the opportunity to make that roll.

  3. I just finished this one today. It really is chock full of instant-death, low-chance dice rolls to get quest items, and red herrings.

    The raging prairie fire has only a 1/3 chance of survival, and only after guessing the branch to get to that chance. The swamp. That stupid tiger mini-game. Then finding out that "oh yeah, there was a traitor, can you guess?" when no mention had ever been made...

    It was kinda a mixed bag, all over the place. Many of the FF books feel like an epic quest, this one felt like a confused patchwork.

    But, it's behind me now. I'm not sure this one will become a replayed favorite...