Well, I was warned I suppose. In Scorpion Swamp, Fake Steve Jackson delivered a quite painful experience.
Two main criticisms come to mind after making my way in and out of this horrible maze. Firstly, the structure of the book wasn’t fun to work with. I can applaud the attempt to try something different to the standard linear approach, but this map system where everything is basically gridded out spoils the immersion entirely. It might not be obvious from reading the text of my playthrough, so here’s my map to show what I mean.
Every clearing was given a number and you can progress back and forth as you please, leading to areas that you may or may have not already visited, containing encounters which may or may not still be waiting for you. Aside from the messing around this entails, the biggest problem was that there is no real flow of story. Every area is an entirely separate entity, its like working your way through a series of independent challenges rather than going on an epic quest through a deadly swamp. Only on a few occasions did things link together, the book would have benefited greatly from ditching this and building up a continuous narrative. The multiple quest idea was a nice one though and I could see that working out over multiple playthroughs, although it could also be said that it just means you’re even more likely to be going on a wild goose chase than usual.
My second major criticism was pretty obvious from my read-through – the huge amount of stat draining going on with seemingly little in the way of regaining stats other than spells. I can stomach losing Skill by failing a test or making a bad decision, but simply for walking into an area, such as the fear flowers section, it’s just not fun. I like a challenge, but I’d like to be beaten by something clever as opposed to practically unavoidable penalties. To finish the book with 3 Skill is just crazy. It’s almost like Fake Steve Jackson didn’t understand how to balance the stats through a reading at all.
Despite the moans though, there’s a few things I wanted to point out that I thought were quite cool, firstly in the art department. Duncan Smith has a few pieces in this book that I wasn’t keen on at all, but I absolutely loved a few in particular that I didn’t encounter on my playthrough. Firstly, the Master of Spiders… had I used a Curse spell on him, he’d have turned into a part spider, which produced this rather dark piece of artwork.
The second appears to be linked to a sequence of events in which you have killed Grimslade and an evil shadow comes to claim his soul and destroys his tower, killing you in the process. I think this might be one of my favourite pieces of art from the books so far. Simplistic, but very bad-ass.
And before I leave this one alone, an early discussion with Grimslade could have resulted in him summoning a demon to kill me so he could claim my magic ring. At Skill 16 Stamina 12, is this the most powerful enemy in a Fighting Fantasy book? I could do some research, but sometimes it’s fun to wildly speculate! Regardless, that’s a pretty insane Skill score however you look at it…