The Forest of Doom – Part 1

#3

The Forest of Doom

Only the foolhardy would risk an encounter with the unknown perils that lurk in the murky depths of Darkwood Forest. Yet there is no alternative, for your quest is a desperate race against time to find the missing pieces of the legendary Hammer of Stonebridge — fashioned by Dwarfs to protect the villagers of Stonebridge against their ancient doom.

As I write, I’m trying to get the stink of this new Muse album out of the room, I’ve got the windows open, but it just won’t go. I’ll have to put some Hawkwind on to get this first entry to Forest of Doom off to a good start. We’ve had good (ish) dice rolls this time too, Skill 10/Stamina 19/Luck 9.

We begin our journey as a wandering adventurer, a swordsman looking for something to go on a quest for, and as luck would have it, in the middle of the night our would-be adventurer is woken by a dwarf crashing through the trees. The little guy had been punctured by two poisoned cross-bow bolts and in his last breaths managed to convey the bare bones of his story as well as his name, Bigleg. His town of Stonebridge was having problems with trolls, but without ‘the hammer’, Gillibran, the Lord of Stonebridge, could not unite the people to fight back. Bigleg had been on his way to find the hammer in Darkwood Forest, but had been ambushed by ‘little people’, which coming from a dwarf indicates that these were very little people. Still, he gave me a map and some gold and sent me to Yaztromos Tower on the southern edge of the forest. Oh, and then he died.

A half a days walk later and I found my way to the tower, sat at the very edge of Darkwood Forest and enticing me in with a big brass bell to ring.

Yaztromo himself answered the door, and only revealed his identity once he knew I was going to buy some of his stuff. I was expecting a master wizard, I got a salesman. Despite this though, I turned down the option to attack the guy – seriously Ian, I know better than that by now. Exciting times followed as I got to do what we all like to do in RPGs: spend gold. A bag of 30gp had been given to me by Bigleg and with it, Yaztromo had a list of items for me to peruse.

I tried to resist and lingering memories I had of items I had used in the past, and indeed, in my intro I remembered having the fire capsules… although I remembered them as acorns for some reason. Regardless, I spent every penny I had on Potion of Plant Control, Potion of Anti-Poison, Potion of Insect Control, Holy Water (we know they love their vampires), Ring of Light, Nose Filters, Rope of Climbing, Net of Entanglement, Headband of Concentration, Glove of Missile Dexterity, Garlic Buds (just to be doubly sure) and the Rod of Water Finding. Ol’ Yaz then discussed my adventure with me a little and shed some light on the areas neglected by Bigleg before he so selfishly went and died. It seemed the fabled hammer of Stonebridge had been the target of an envious dwarf king in another village and an attempt was made to steal it. The eagle he sent to steal the hammer was initially successful, but was then ripped apart by Death Hawks flying over Darkwood Forest and the hammer was lost. Supposedly, two goblins found the hammer and unable to decide who would take the treasure, the head and handle were separated so that each could take a prize. Great, that’s two things to find then. I bid Yaz farewell and descended the spiral staircase and headed out into the forest.

Heading in a westerly direction, it wasn’t long before I had my first encounter. A yelling voice caught my attention and following the noise, I discovered a robed man caught up in a rabbit snare beneath a tree. Despite his sneaky looking eyes, I decided to help free him and together we pulled apart the snare, freeing his leg. He explained that he had been searching for his lost brother in the forest before falling foul of the trap. We shook hands and he went on his way. Soon after, I decided that maybe my initial instinct was correct and on checking my belongings I had of course got some stuff missing as the utter cad had been a thief! I was told to either lose any remaining gold I had or two of the items I’d bought from Yaz. Having no cash, I ditched the Garlic Buds and the Rod of Water Finding. Utterly miffed, I continued north.

On my way forward, I spotted a goblin sat holding what looked like the handle for our hammer. I approached the little guy and tried to speak to him, but what I was actually talking to was the Shape Changer, the green spiney thing on the cover of the book! He suddenly took on his real form and I found myself in combat. A tough one he was too, with stats of 10/10 leaving me munching on a few packs of provisions when the battle was won. Slightly disappointed in how unspectacular the incident was though, not even a picture or a reward to accompany the fight! I did however discover some interesting looking mushrooms growing nearby and of course felt that the correct course of action would be to eat them. I guess it could have worked out ok, but these things were ‘Mix-up Mushrooms’ and I had to switch my Skill and Luck scores. As I’d used a bit of Luck to kill the Shape Changer, I was now down to a Skill of 8. Brilliant.

Going a bit east and then a bit north, I was knocked to the ground by Treeman! Yes, Treeman! The forest was alive and trying to kill me too, but nature was once again tamed by man as I kicked that trees arse. Not an easy task mind as he had stats of 8/8 and I had to beat him twice so as to destroy his main two branches. Provisions were required and again, no reward was obtained for such a tough fight. I must draw attention to the artwork for Treeman though as let’s be honest, it’s bloody awful.

The trees began to thin out and become less violent after here and soon I found myself surveying an area of plains grassland. The hills marked on the easterly section of the map maybe? I will leave that for next time in Part Two…

Only the foolhardy or the very brave would willingly risk a journey into Darkwood Forest…

I write to you this brief introduction, mildly annoyed with Windows Update as it fiendishly took the decision to reboot my PC overnight when it was supposed to be downloading Guild Wars 2. I guess my day off will be spent in Darkwood Forest instead then, not too bad a trade-off really as this was one of my favourites as a child. I’m fairly sure I had the ‘zig-zag’ edition of The Forest of Doom back then, which indicates to me that I had found it in a charity shop, as was an easier task back then. Being from Yorkshire, I appreciate the great outdoors and the setting, exploring deep in an eerie forest, was perfect for me. A nice change from the previous two books as well which were claustrophobic dungeon crawls.

I actually don’t remember much about the specific content of the book, but I do remember Yaztromo’s Tower though as the guy has such a bad-ass name. Fairly sure I had some sort of acorns that set fire to people too… or was that Phantoms of Fear? I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

Special note has to go to the cover artwork as the image of the Shape Changer always stuck with me and was one I would just sit looking at, absorbing all the details like the strange tail-tip or the way the spines ripped through his little hoodie.

Ian McCaig is the man responsible, as he was for some other iconic pieces of Fighting Fantasy art, but we will get onto those all in good time. It’s just another reason why I’m not interested in collecting the Wizard editions of these books. To me, I think of The Forest of Doom, I instantly think of this artwork. Why replace it?

Having praised Mr. McCaig though, I’m not too sure about the main illustrator of the book though, Malcolm Barter. Along with inclusions in Out of the Pit, this was his only Fighting Fantasy book. The images in this book are a very different style to the previous two, nowhere near as dark, and while not exactly poor, the guy doesn’t seem to be able to draw a hand holding a weapon properly! I’m sure you will see plenty of examples as I scan the images for the read-through, but there are some very dainty grips out there in Darkwood Forest! A small thing, but one which leaped out to me as I scanned through before writing this.

Now then, where’s my pencil?

Bag of dog crap

This evening I returned from my trip away to see some friends with no new treasure, the charity shops of Sowerby Bridge could only offer me a 2004 Legend of Zagor, which remained on the shelf. Sorry, ‘charity’, but not good enough! However, my eBay purchases were sat waiting for me on top of my fridge when I came through the door. And how lovingly wrapped they were too! Initially though, I did wonder what the hell I’d been sent when I saw this –

 

Then inside was this –

 

And finally, this!

 

Both in great condition, especially Forest of Doom, which I’d be surprised if it’s ever been read it’s so perfect. Where have people been keeping these things over the years? Anyway, the forest awaits, will get reading tomorrow. Although I have also just picked up Guild Wars 2… so I’m banking on not being distracted by it too much. Wish me luck there.

 

The Citadel of Chaos – Conclusions

So, I write this hoping my Macbook Air doesn’t randomly turn itself off like it did earlier, so wish me luck with that one.

The Citadel of Chaos was a much harder journey than the first book, as my abject failure on the first run showed. Having said that though, it actually felt like a very short journey, just one that sprawled out in many directions. Seemingly, there were routes which favoured different types of character, my route took me through very little combat for instance, which was great due to my poor core stat rolls. Were I a 12/24/12 type, I’d have been happier fighting the likes of the hydra, rather than relying on finding special items or picking the right spells. I was very disappointed that I didn’t find the location of one of my favourite Fighting Fantasy monsters though – the Wheelies! Just look at them!

Whilst assessing my failure, I did explore more of the book than I detailed in Part 3 and found a number of potential routes, but all led up to the encounter in the Black Tower with the Ganjees. The only possible way through here was by finding one of two special items, the ointment or an amulet.  The Ganjees were therefore the most difficult encounter to progress from, Balthus Dire could insta-kill you if you tried to fight him with magic, but you could simply draw your sword and go toe-to-toe with him if you wanted (although with stats of 12/19, he’s a major badass) – not even an option with the Ganjees.

I enjoyed this one a bit more than WoFM though, the story seemed a bit tighter, albeit with a few holes and the encounters more diverse and challenging. I enjoyed figuring out how to pass by the Ganjees a great deal more than I did finding my way through the Maze of Zagor, that’s for certain! In general, the encounters were much more fun and polished, especially the magic battle with Balthus Dire. I liked the magic aspect in general actually, there were enough instances where spells could back-fire to prevent making them over-powered.

Special note has to go to Russ Nicholson though, the illustrator. His work in Warlock of Firetop Mountain included a cyclops statue with a very well rounded, and mildly disturbing, arse. I saw this picture and well… when I get to his next book, Masks of Mayhem, I will be on arse-watch. Russ, you’ve been warned.

I shall be going away for a few days, so it might be a little while before my next read-through, but Forest of Doom & Starship Traveller are in the post! Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to raid some new charity shops whilst on my travels too. Updates on Twitter as always.

The Citadel of Chaos – Part 3

Alright, the last run I had ended pretty badly. The Vale of Willow was utterly screwed thanks to the Ganjees. However, I’m not going to leave this unfinished, so let’s  see if we can re-work things from the courtyard at the beginning shall we?

Instead of approaching the men arguing over the price of a dagger, I went over to the group sat by the fire, which turned out to be the far superior choice. An odd bunch they were, an orc, a pair of clearly romantically involved goblins and a dwarf. Now, I’m not sure that traditional fantasy relations would permit a dwarf to be hanging out with these guys, but let us not dwell on this as I decided to sit down with the group. Acting the big man, I demanded they give me some information and surprisingly, the attitude worked and they coughed up a password to get into the citadel, ‘Scimitar’. Things took a quick turn though and soon, the fairly weak group were all dead. Taking my pick of their stuff, I walked away with 8gp, a jar of ointment and a Potion of Magic, which would allow me to take on a couple of extra spells when I needed them.

Approaching the main entrance to the citadel, I was now armed with a password, so this time, Rhino-man didn’t beat seven shades out of me and I was able to continue nice and healthy. Again taking an opposite route, I bypassed the descending staircase and opted for the door at the end of the entrance corridor. A sign indicated that I should ‘Please Ring for Butler’, so I rang the bell and a man with teeth as awful as his shoes were excellent slowly shuffled through the door to greet me.

I continued with my tact of pretending like I was supposed to be there by saying I was ‘expected’. It was fairly obvious that he didn’t expect me at all, but when I asked about the reception, he nodded towards the left turn at the T-junction that lay before me. I had to think though, do citadels run by evil black sorcerers usually have a reception? What about a gym or Wifi? Anyway, not really sure it was a good idea, I took his word and went down the left passage. Seems I was right to feel unsure as unless the reception was run by a huge, angry Goblin-Giant hybrid, he was trying to get me into bother. The Gark was a big bugger, but a quick casting of a Weakness spell reduced his Skill from 7 to 5 and he was soon cut down. His death earned me 6gp and an ornate hairbrush.

Taking the right of two doors, I found myself in a library where I was able to ask the irritable librarian for books on specific topics. As I’d had trouble there before, my first selection was for ‘Secrets of the Black Tower’. The tower had been built by Balthus Dire’s grandfather as a sanctuary for the forces of evil and he turned it into a fortress to hide away in; the good bit was a combination to the inner sanctum of the Black Tower, ‘217’.  Next, I looked up a book on Balthus Dire himself and learned that due to his focus on black magic, his power comes from the night and sunlight is poison to him. Before I could research the creatures of the citadel though, a noise alerted the attention of the librarian, refusing to run, I waited to see what the noise was. A group of orc guards came storming in, damn that Butler, and one knocked me out cold with a mere puff of breath in my face. Nice.

I awoke in prison, a scene that I actually did remember from my childhood and thought for some reason was where the book began. Well, I was back there again and was waiting for a Calacorm, a two-headed lizard-man, to bring me a bowl of soup. Aw.

After gulping down my delicious (I imagine) soup, it was time to get me the hell out of there with some magic. An illusion spell would do, make the guard think he was being attacked… yeeessss…. My illusion conjured up a mouse. Brilliant. And I say that without sarcasm as apparently Calacorms are scared to death of mice and the thing ended up standing on a table, shrieking like a girl. If it were wearing a skirt I’d imagine it would be daintily pulled up to its knees. Throwing me the keys, the Calacorm begged me to get rid of the mouse, so I let myself out, got to a safe distance and broke the spell.

We can skip forward a little here as I had managed to find my way back to O’Seamus, but took another door this time which led into a wine cellar. A black elf was running things down here and a quick chat resulted in a time out for some wine tasting. Because I’m a learned gentleman, I selected to sample some red and my word, I regained 2 Stamina and 3 Luck! How cultured. Now, excuse me good sire, I have a warlord to murder.

We take a path through and past the golem, back through the dining room, and this time, instead of taking the path via the orc babies, I opted for the left door. What I found was a beautiful, dark-haired woman laid in a luxurious four-poster bed who shot fire out of her eyes at me. Tsk.. women. I told her I had a gift for her and handed over the ornate hairbrush I took from the Gark’s room. Suitably impressed, she started brushing her hair with her new toy, distracting her long enough for me to steal the golden fleece that covered her bed and run off out the door. Looking at the size of the thing, that hairbrush must have been utterly amazing.

So, now we close in on my beloved Ganjees again. Climbing the tower, I bypassed the chest trap this time and climbed to the Black Tower and met up with my old foes. This time though, I had a powerful artifact… a jar of ointment! The voices of the Ganjees were taken aback, ‘What is that?’ they asked, another voice identified the jar as containing ointment of healing. Apparently these guys were in real need of some healing ointment as their ‘bwa-ha-ha-you-will-die-here’ act was soon dropped and they accepted my offer and let me pass. Fairly amazed that such a paltry item was the solution to a situation where powerful magic and violence had failed me, I proceeded on.

Straight from one awful encounter to the next, I climbed another set of spiral stairs and was thrust straight into the body-strewn lair of a hydra. Using a fairly tenuous piece of mythological logic, I chose to brandish my brand-new golden fleece at the thing. Hissing in retreat, the hydra wasn’t too keen on the fleece, giving me the time to run across the room and through the next door.

Reaching the apex of the citadel, a sign warned me ‘HALT. None may pass by order of Balthus Dire’, I figured this was it now. A solid metal door blocked my route onward, but the combination I had earlier learned from the library (which come to think of it, why on earth would you publish the lock combination to your inner lair in a book?) allowed me to pass through unhindered. On the other side however, a trident inexplicably came flying out of the dark towards my neck, which had to be quickly blocked with a shielding spell. Composing myself, I found I was in a military room, maps and plans littered the area with the mighty Balthus Dire leaning against a table, waiting for me in the middle.

Bar his huge armour, an intimidating character he is not. Look at his silly hair. Look how close his eyes are together. Now look at his hair again. You’d laugh at this man, not fear him. ‘Why, I’ll wager you’re not even a match for a Clawbeast!’, he ended up yelling at me as he summoned said beast to come and get me. A quick spell of my own reduced it to a corpse on the floor. My turn now. I used a Creature Copy spell to give me my own Balthus Dire to launch an offensive with, Dire sent it back to attack me though before I turned it again back on him. This power struggle continued until the spell faded and my Balthus Dire left my side. Damn. What was now turning into a battle of magic, not unlike the end of Willow, saw Dire turning himself into a Gorgon, complete with snarling hair of snakes!

Retreating quickly and luckily avoiding its petrifying gaze, I turned its gaze upon itself with O’Seamus’ mirror which broke the spell and left me face to face with Dire once more. Using the pause in the action to my advantage, I remembered the words I read in the library (knowledge is power, kids) and tore down the curtains by the window, streaming sunlight into the room. A blood-curling scream and a cry of ‘The curtain! You fool’ accompanied the final moments of Dire as he collapsed to the ground and crawled to his death. Setting fire to his war-plans, a levitation spell floated me down to the ground from atop the citadel where I could return to a Vale of Willow with a peaceful future.

My adventure was over.