Given that the large box of space squirrels I left us contemplating last time seemed to contain a large amount of angry space squirrels, I decided to leave it alone and have a look inside the crate which sat nearby. Inside was their feed, space squirrels preferring ‘orangey-purple fruit’ as the primary component of their diet. The group suddenly calmed and watched me intently, expecting a feed. They didn’t get one though as I simply pocketed a few pieces of fruit and headed on my way. After another hundred metres or so, the corridor came to a dead end which presented two buttons, to the left and right, for me to press. I chose the right one, the wall dropped and revealed the path forward was currently occupied by a terrible foe indeed… the cleaners! I do not jest either, as in all seriousness, the three of them were not only instantly hostile towards me, but with Skill of 9, 8 and 7 were more effective in combat than the guard robots I had previously faced! Again, I restate, these are cleaners, armed with vacuum cleaners. Mental. The following room was a long one, half covered in water, with a door at the opposite end. Under the water seemed to be a large collection of pipes, clamping equipment and machinery, so I chose not to jump in and went through the door at the other side. It was here that things got a little odd. Stretched out before me was a wide, open countryside, contained within the Vandervecken. I was miles above the ‘ground’, able to traverse the landscape via a series of floating pathways. I was on one which, predictably, was ‘arrow-straight’, but then led onto a T-junction where I took a left and then a right. Our author has a tendency to put in long, straight pathways and this tendency became almost farcical here as the pathway continued for ‘quite a few kilometers‘ before reaching a floating metal cube with a door in it. Also at this point was a rapid-transit commuter vehicle which I could use to travel back to the previous T-junction. I hadn’t walked all those kilometres in a die-straight line for nothing though, I wanted to get in that cube! Horrors abound inside the cube. This was some sort of heinous surgery, we knew Cyrus was into some messed up stuff and this was as good an example of that as we’re going to see. Organs, limbs and some unidentifiable pieces of lifeforms were floating around in jars as a backdrop a human with tentacle arms strapped onto an operating table. Appallingly, the man was still alive and tried to speak to me and so I told him the truth, that I was an assassin sent to kill Cyrus. Given his current predicament, I didn’t think he’d have too much of an issue with that, or be able to do much about it if he did. Tears of joy filled his eyes and he tried to stroke my hand with one of his tentacles, which I’m not sure is touching or creepy. Either way he managed to spit out one piece of advice, ‘Take the middle, always the middle…‘, and then passed out. A short trip on the commuter vehicle later and I was taking a left at the previous T-junction where the path curved around and led me to a grey wall, signifying the end of the countryside. Through the door was a familiar scene, a security nexus where two dome-helmeted guards sat watching Zero-G Fangball. Yup, the book cover. I was going to try and convince them that I was a part of the crew, but they instantly pointed their blasters at me and so I had little option but to take them on. An easy fight too with them both at 6/4, another set of guards less potent in combat than the ships cleaning staff. From this room I could continue through a security door, but decided to take the option of the small sliding door instead. This happened to be the guards kitchen area, complete with plate of sandwiches and coffee. Say what you like about Cyrus, he looks after his people. Five Stamina points were mine after consuming all their food and so I went on through the security door. What I found still amazes me now as I relive this section of the book. Behold, a good candidate for the most boring illustration in the world. A big room with a pathway running around the edge and a bridge in the middle. Couldn’t we have had a picture of the surreal countryside scene instead? Taking the advice of my tentacle-armed friend I headed along the middle pathway and managed to cross without incident, heading out through the door on the opposite side. The next obstacle in my way was a super-aggressive looking brute adorned in thick armour plate, carrying a ‘disintegrator’. This guy might end up being tough fight… I flipped ahead a little and deduced that I wasn’t able to take the exciting sounding disintegrator off him after defeating him in combat and so opted to try the non-combat route. ‘To pass, you must answer my question… if you think you are intelligent enough’, he informed me. What the hell is going on here? The guy looks like a maniac just waiting for an excuse to eviscerate someone and yet he’s actually willing to drop all his guardly duties if you can prove your brain power by solving a puzzle? This doesn’t make sense. But who am I to judge as I couldn’t make sense of his puzzle. ‘What is the next letter in the following sequence: OTTFFSSE?‘. On deciding, I had to take the letters number in the alphabet (A=1) and multiply it by 10 to get my page number. I’m sure some clever soul will be more than happy to tell me how this one was done, but I really couldn’t be bothered with it in the end and did a little page flicking to discover the answer was N. ‘You may pass‘, he said, and so I continued, again taking the advice of the guy in the surgery and headed through the middle of three doors. And you know what, our intellectual brute had a Skill of 5. The cleaners had 9, 8 and 7. Sigh.
A short while ago I had a fairly major find in Canterbury Oxfam and today I had a similarly big hit in the Oxfam Books shop just down the road from that place. My eyes lit-up when I saw a thick section of green in the kids titles, curiously some brown too which I’m unfamiliar with…
The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was a very early edition, I think it only listed the first three titles as being available in the series, but I left that on the shelf for some other lucky person. And although I have yet to add Appointment With FEAR to my collection, I’m not after the Wizard editions so that stayed there too, Freeway Fighter I have recently acquired on eBay as it’s my next book to read at the time of writing… so what did I actually pick up in the end?
Handily, with these books I’ve filled an imminent gap, with my collection now taking me almost up to book 22, Robot Commando, ironically with Appointment With FEAR being the only title missing up to that point. As with my previous big haul, these books appear to be from an abandoned collection once owned by a ‘Lionel Cornish’. Seems Mr. Cornish once held these books in great esteem, writing ‘KEEP OFF’ on one inside cover, but then reduced his interest to the point of being willing to accept £1.95 for it.
Well, they’re mine now, Cornish. All mine.
Looming above your home planet is the vast hulk of the starship Vandervecken. Aboard, the crazed scientist Cyrus is planning to unleash a gruesome experiment upon your world, which will destroy all life as it is known, leaving only hideous mutations in its wake. YOU are an assassin, and your mission is to stop him – before it is too late!
This is the Vandervecken, the immense spacecraft where utter maniac, Miley Cyrus, is conducting abhorrent experiments on humans and aliens alike. Stowing away on a supply craft, we make our way aboard, hoping to end her ultimate plans of destroying all life on our planet with viruses. We’re in luck too as we have a fairly strong character to do it with, although ironically one with sub-par Luck (12/17/9), as was detailed earlier we have some other stats to deal with too, an Armour score of 10 and 5 points to spend on weapons. I’ve gone for an Assault Blaster, which does 1D6 damage (3 points) and an additional 4 points of Armour (1/2 point each).
As the supply craft closed in on the Vandervecken, I spied a small iris airlock so I lept from the supply ship and floated over to my choice of covert entry point. So far, so good. Through the airlock we go and find ourselves in a small corridor ending in three doors, on the floor was a small pile of ‘organic refuse’, so of course, I had to have a rummage through it before continuing.
A six-limbed, hunchbacked skeleton lay on the floor, a bloody trail leading from its body to the maintenance hatch on my right. In its hand was a small electronic device with one button on it, wires leading up the creatures arm into the remnants of a sleeve. Yes, apparently this small rat thing used to wear a shirt. Ignoring the fact this could well be the trigger to some sort of bomb I took the device from the creatures hand only to find the wires were attached to nothing. What seemed to be missing was a power source, so I took the incomplete device along with me. A trail of blood is always an interesting thing to follow, so I went through the right door to find out where our skeletal pal had come from.
What I found was soon to become an on-going theme – a long tunnel. This variety was a dark access tunnel filled with conduits and aluminum lattices cutting through the ship, this led down to another maintenance hatch off to the side, behind which I could hear muffled gurgling, the tunnel continuing into the darkness. I’m going to assume that the door is where the snappily dressed skeleton came from, so I opened up the hatch. A prison area was what laid before me, a faceless robot guard stood in front of two cells, a prime target to try out my Assault Blaster on. The poor lamb didn’t stand a chance at 7/6 I easily beat him and with a damage roll of 6, I one-shot him. After having splashed out on an Assault Blaster though, I was offered to loot one off this guard, a little annoying as I could have got me some grenades instead and I’m not even allowed to dual-wield them! Regardless, I took at look at the cells, the gurgling noise was emitting from this one and inside I found a battered old man, covered in scars and stitches. On seeing the door to his cell open to reveal the smoking remains of the guard, he started to talk, mostly babble following his obvious traumatic experiences, but did relay some interesting information about the pilot of the Vandervecken. He is actually a machine, not a man and should he ask me anything about ‘thinking or feeling’ I should just reply that I ‘don’t know’. Will do.
Moving onto the the next cell, it appeared to be empty on first impressions, but on closer inspection I realised I was incorrect as I was attacked by what appears to be a Furby for the cost of 1 Armour point. The thing scuttled up the wall and sat glaring at me, unfortunately I wasn’t given the option to blow it away, so I went back to the tunnel.
Only a few more metres along the tunnel and I’d come across another hatch, this one feeling slightly warm. Behind the door were several large conduits running from floor to ceiling that were the source of the heat and behind them was a sliding door. Following this one through I found myself in a fashionably furnished room filled with couches and tables, and inhabited by two rodent-like beings in white lab coats sat reading electronic resource sheets. IT is a cushy job alright, but rather than blast these little guys, I decided to try and get some info from them and merely threatened them. They claimed innocence though, stating they were ‘humble scientists’ (now making me think of the South Park otters) and that Cyrus only seeks them out when he needs them, never the other way around.
Curiously, I ordered them to strip (!) and tied them up. As I did this though, I found sets of electronic keys on them and was able to use them on a security door leading out of their science lounge.
Another long corridor of a hundred metres or so was ahead of me and I followed it along until a door to the left distracted me. What I had been distracted by was actually just a small kitchen, but in there I managed to scavenge a high-energy bar that would restore 5 Stamina points. I should also point out something I forgot to mention earlier, Space Assassin imposes an item limit on you, excluding weapons, allowing you to carry only five at any one time.
Leaving the kitchen I shortly came to the end of the corridor which culminated in a circular room occupied by a squat, tri-pedal robot armed with a pair of electric-lashes. ‘Halt: inspection point‘, it squawked at me. Having no time for trying bluffs, I opened fire on what was another easy encounter (7/6), although a very couple of rolls did actually see me take a little damage. I had a look through the remains of the robot, but found nothing except for what looked like a safe beneath its feet. Three coloured buttons were on the door; blue, red and green. I pressed them in the most logical order I could think of – red, green, blue. And yep, RGB did the trick and the safe popped open, a booby trap was waiting for me, but now disarmed I could take the Gravity Bomb and add it to my weapons collection. Ignoring the side-door, I continued straight ahead to find another long corridor, with yes, another side-door.
A small library of sorts was behind here, books, microfilm, resource sheets, all manner of scientific information was available. Three volumes were left out on a table and I had time to read through one of them. My subject choices were – molluscs, neurotoxins and robots. Knowledge of neurotoxins I figured would probably not help me if I was afflicted by them, molluscs were not entirely out of the question to be attacking me on this ship at some point, but given that I’d already seen two different robotic guards, I sat down and learned a little bit about robots.
Unsurprisingly the corridor continued ahead ‘for a very long while’ and the next side-door actually had a sign, ‘CEPHALO SQUIRRELS – HANDLE WITH CARE’. Space squirrels sound more fun than walking down a corridor for a long while, so I went inside.
The poor little guys looked quite angry to be held within a small plastic cage, and to add insult to injury, some of them had inexplicably been shaved. What kind of monster shaves a squirrel? Cyrus, that’s who, and I am going to kill him.
So, one of the sci-fi books… Space Assassin isn’t the best reviewed book of the series, my favourite summary on the Reviews Archive being, ‘If you see it, get it if you want, but I wouldn’t myself‘. Truly glowing. However, the sci-fi Fighting Fantasy is bad equation doesn’t really work for me as I quite liked Starship Traveller, so I will refrain from forming an opinion before I get stuck in.
Space Assassin is one from the ‘Presents’ series, our author this time is Andrew Chapman who Titanica tells me wrote the book after reading Warlock of Firetop Mountain when that was the only Fighting Fantasy book that existed, it sat around and got moulded by himself and eventually the publishers before it ended up in its current form. Save for reading it on a train somewhere, I have no real memories attached to this book. The cover always stuck in my head I guess, I always thought the armour looked like a pretty cool offspring of Stormtroopers and 40K marine armour.
In the absence of much else to say about the book before I dive in, I’m going to start detailing any special rules and a basic story set-up in the introduction before I write Part One.
The space assassin of the title is actually in reference to you, the reader. Our target and villain of the story is Cyrus, a tyrannical scientist who has been conducting bizarre and hideous experiments on humans, creatures, whatever he can find really, he is the Space-Josef Mengele. His mutant creations and robotic cohorts guard his huge starship, the Vandervecken and his next experiment is to release radioactive isotopes over our planet which will shower deadly viruses on all living things. Armed with a variety of weapons and twenty-seven different schools of alien and human martial arts, we are being sent to stop him.
A few new mechanics are in place to represent the sci-fi setting, the most important being in armour and weapons. Armour is a 6+D6 value that works like a typical 2D6 Skill or Luck test, when you are hit in combat you roll against your armour, fail and you take damage, succeed and your armour absorbs the hit, either way you then lose one point from your armour value. This might seem to make things much easier, but some weapons can do 6 Stamina damage to you in a single hit. Weapon selection is done by spending 1xD6 points on a limited range of weapons, ranging from grenades to blasters, all doing varying damage. Provisions are also out, with Pep Pills taking their place, you begin the adventure with 4 of them, each restoring 5 Stamina and can be used at any time.
So we know who we’re after and we’ve got a pretty good idea how to kill him. I’ll see you shortly on the Vandervecken…
As far as story goes, Talisman of Death was a bit of a roller-coaster ride, it ripped along at a fair old pace and sent me through a pretty wide selection of scenarios. We started in the rift, travelled across the wilderness, explored a city, got hunted by demons, crashed a black-mass, went on a raid with thieves, crossed the wilderness again, a mini-dungeon crawl, a mountain climb, worked our way through jungle and then fought a dragon – it hardly gives you time to breathe! Whilst I did appreciate that this meant for very few dull moments, I did feel that maybe the book tries to do a bit too much. Some story directions I found more entertaining than others and I’d have liked to have spent longer on some locations or events than we did. For instance, I was very excited to combine City of Thieves-style street exploration with a cat-and-mouse chase between myself and the undead, only to then have the Talisman taken from me almost straight away. Ending this segment so soon was very disappointing, it was also disappointing to miss this memorable piece of art whilst being stalked through Greyguilds.
During the latter stages of the book, I couldn’t help be reminded of Caverns of the Snow Witch in that it did seem to be a longer than average adventure, the journey out of Greyguilds to the mountain with Hawkana pursuing me in my dreams did drag a little compared to the rest of the book. Having commented on the length of the book, there were still plenty of choices I didn’t explore.
My unexplored choices seems to have covered some of my favourite illustrations from the book, this elk-man thing looks particularly bad-ass in the sheeting rain…
…this thing… I have no idea what the hell is going on here, it looks like something Kurt Russell should be burning alive…
…I’m fairly sure this is the first (proper) boss from Demons’ Souls…
…and this is the worlds derpiest looking triceratops.
There’s also this great image of Smaug… I mean ‘the dragon’… having a snooze in his cave before we violently butchered him.
I’ve been a bit critical of the book, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, I read the whole thing in two short sittings and had many memorable encounters, particularly the excellent dragon battle finale. I just would have liked to see it expand upon its more interesting segments like infiltrating the evil cultists or solving the underground riddles of the ivory spear. A bit of a jack of all trades I guess that stops short of being excellent and ends up just being very good. It was pleasing to get a good ending, difficulty wise the book was pitched pretty well given how the book flows so easily, the main challenge coming from some of the combat as opposed to needing items or making hard decisions. Including restart points was a nice idea, but I imagine the majority of players have already got their very own checkpoints set by jamming fingers in pages, but legitimising it in the rules of the book will please some.
After Scorpion Swamp, I leave Talisman of Death with my faith restored in the non-Jackson/Livingstone books, I thought this one was in safe hands and overall I think my confidence was rewarded with a solid adventure.