The Shamutanti Hills – Conclusions

I guess you could say I got through that by the skin of my teeth. A fair portion of the book I managed unarmed, which is as good a way to test the magic system as I can imagine! It has to be said though that this was a very easy book, and judging by comments around the community, that’s a view shared by the majority. I hadn’t realised this was basically a tutorial for the Sorcery series though, I blazed through it in a couple of short sittings and was a bit dumbstruck that I’d reached the end when I did, especially given the above-average page count. I can now see that a lot of those pages make up different spell-casting scenarios and the like. It certainly seemed like I missed a hell of a lot though, a lot of John Blanches excellent art-work hinting at many scenes and encounters that passed me by. Some of the more surreal style of figures reminded me of the gorgeous art in Amanita Designs outstanding Botanicula.

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A user comment has noted that I took an ‘unconventional’ route, the fact that it’s even possible to take an unconventional route is a great boast for the books re-playability.

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My desire to give the iOS version a go has certainly increased having played the paper version, I really enjoyed exploring the hills and would love to know what else is out there. Perhaps I should be getting an iPad mini instead of a Nexus 7 afterall… Regardless, Shamutanti Hills really is a relaxing stroll in the countryside for the most part and for that reason its a lovely experience to immerse yourself in. Titannica notes that the manticore lair is a step-up in difficulty compared to the rest of the book though and I would agree, but I got really very lucky indeed in picking my route as it seems I avoided some very nasty things that I would probably have been killed by given that I entered with a Stamina of about 8 I think.

As I mentioned earlier, I certainly wouldn’t have made it out alive without my magic and I was able to use the magic system without needing to cheat. The naming system gives you enough clues to suggest what they spells do if you can’t remember, but where I will come unstuck in the future books is remembering that certain items are required for some spells. Other new systems I really enjoyed too, the food and sleep aspect dragged me into the word a bit more, I do like that element of realism in games though, when I knew Fallout: New Vegas had a Hardcore mode that did the same, I was straight on it from my first play-through. The Libra system was flexible, although the issue of restoring my Skill without a weapon was a bit of a grey area, as was the ending where I was treated by the Svinns healer. Do I get to restore my Skill or not? The idea of continuity between books is something I haven’t experienced before, but I’m very interested to see how my new friend Flanker helps out and what the key the Svinns gave me allows me to do.

Before I draw this to a close, a few of my favourite pieces of art. Jann featured in what I thought was a wonderful fantasy image, but another beautiful scene really caught my eye of some sort of pixie creatures hanging out by a body of water.

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This guy represents my experience with the book really, it’s cute and friendly looking, just begging for a hug.

 

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But then this guy represents what I am being warned I’ll experience in the next book…

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That’s just terrifying!

So if the Shamutanti Hills equals The Shire, I guess I’m heading to Mordor!

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The Shamutanti Hills – Part 3

Last time we met up, I was dead, killed by some flowers. But we won’t be letting that get in our way across the hills, oh no. The crown of kings must be rescued and the next step to achieving that is to go back to page 67 just outside of Birritanti and head west instead of east. Travelling up and down a valley, the path took me and my little companion Jann through until noon, I was given the chance to eat some provisions but they had of course all been eaten by a squirrel earlier in my adventure. But then, it became apparent that we were being watched. Progressing slowly through a wooded area, a black figure stepped out from behind a tree.

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So far I’ve managed to avoid combat for the most part, a good job too as the reader may remember that as well as losing all my food, I also lost my sword and am reduced to a Skill of 6. A quick look at Out of the Pit tells me that this means I have a combat ability marginally superior to that of a Pixie. I tried to open a dialogue with the man, but he simply drew his scimitar and the fight began. Thankfully, at 8/6, he wasn’t as tough as he looked. There were options to use a spell, but there was also the intriguing option of sparing his life if I could reduce his Stamina to 3. With my high Luck, all I needed was one hit and I’d be there so I took that chance. About 5 rounds of combat passed before I landed a lucky unarmed blow and forced him to submit, I’m gonna guess I got in a ball shot. It appears I’d made a very astute choice as the man begged for mercy and told me he was a thief picking on wanderers for combat practice whilst he travelled to Khare. He didn’t think I’d put up such a fight… an unarmed man accompanied by a Minimite… you can see his point. Flanker was his name and he promised to remain my friend and would assist me once I reached Khare myself. The text told me to turn to page 79 when I read the next book to see how he would assist. Maybe he’ll buy me a sword?

Moving on, it seemed that my Minimite friend Jann was becoming something of an annoyance, his constant chattering becoming completely annoying to the hero of this adventure. Possibly though, help was at hand as at the side of the path was an old woman sitting outside a hut who called me over to her. Going into her hut left Jann slightly suspicious, but he is about 3 inches tall so he had no option.

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Our host offered us tea and glared with obvious disgust aimed at Jann, but did still give him a tiny cup of tea. I opted not to try and switch the tea she gave me with her own. My beverage was tasty and refreshing, restoring a point of Stamina and also a point of Luck as apparently the woman had assumed I would try and switch the mugs and had ended up poisoning herself. She covered this up as best she could though and snuck off to presumably take an antidote. Conversation continued and my travels were a point of interest to her, especially when she asked if I had met an old man on my way… the man in the tree sprang to mind. She asked if I took a page of a spell book from him, on showing her the page she snatched it from me with an expression of glee. She explained that the old man was the victim of an aging spell she had cast upon what was actually a young rogue who had attempted to steal her spell book. For the page, she promised to rid me of Jann, who unbeknownst to me was actually blocking my use of magic! I hadn’t cast any since he joined me, so I hadn’t realised, but this couldn’t continue and so I agreed. With a squeal, Jann vanished and I bid the lady farewell.

Now late afternoon, I passed over the brow of a hill to discover the village of  Torrepani. Earlier I had been warned that the aggressive half-orc race that inhabited this place, the Svinns, had been suffering some problems of late and so I assumed this was about to make life difficult for me too. An air of depression hung over the village and so I approached a group to see if I could find out just exactly what was going on here. Listening in on their conversation, it was revealled that the village chiefs daughter had been kidnapped and was to be sacrificed to a powerful cave demon, she was the chiefs only offspring and if his family lined ends, prophecy states that the village will fall. On informing them of my adventures so far, they jumped me and marched me off to a nearby hut. The swines then locked me in and left me there overnight, I took the opportunity to get some sleep, but was again unable to eat thanks to that damn squirrel.

When morning broke I was visited by Proseus, the village chief himself, he made a small offering of some bread and milk and asked me if I would go rescue his daughter. These people need to work on their social skills. It seemed I had little choice though and so before I knew it I was in a basket being lowered into a pit like so much lotion. Submerged into pitch black surroundings at the bottom of the cave the Svinns decided to help me and threw down some flint and tinder so I could light my way. They could have thrown me a bloody sword.

Off we go then into the black and I took a left at a T-junction which took a downward slope to another T-junction, again I turned left. Unbelievably, what awaited me around this turn was a whimpering Svinn girl! Is this all that stood in the way of the people of Torrepani? Those losers. They could have done this themselves and saved some bread and milk. Still, I comforted the girl and she clinged to me for safety as I guided her back to the basket.

Behind me though, a roaring sound grew and shook the walls of the cave, crashing down rocks and sealing off my escape route. Before I had time to react, the source of the roaring was revealed; a Manticore.

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I was offered the option to fight him, but decided some spells would be the better choice. For 2 Stamina points I cast the DOZ spell, which slows an opponents reactions, the creature shaking its head and pauses from swinging its barbed tail at me. Following this up with an attacking spell, I opted for HOT, which for 4 Stamina points launched a fireball at the Manticore, slamming into its side causing the beast to roar out in pain. At this point I was down to only 4 Stamina points. It was as good a time as any to call upon Libra to restore my stats to their initial values! I debated over restoring my Skill score and decided that Libra wasn’t going to be able to deliver a sword to the bottom of a cave and that I should play fair and leave it at 6. Of the remaining spells available to me, the only one I recognised was WAL, an invisible shield, so I cast that one. My luck was in as the manticore leaped at me just as I conjured up the shield, the awful thing slammed into the invisible wall I had created and I was able to hold it at bay as I made my escape with the Svinn girl.

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Job well done, the Svinn were delighted and I was given the freedom of the village whilst I recuperated from my battle with the manticore. I was tended to by the village healing-priest and was told I could restore all my stats to their initial values… can I say this means they gave me a sword? Yes, I think I’m going to say that. The chief gave me 10 gold and a key to Khare as a reward, apparently a traveller had passed through once before and said this key would open the gates and allow entrance without being noticed. As a final bonus, my pleasant encounter with these people was enough to increase my Initial Luck by 1.

The path out of Torrepani led me down the remaining descent of the Shamutanti Hills, across rice fields and towards the walled city of Khare…

My adventure will continue in book two soon!

The Shamutanti Hills – Part 2

On entering the ale-house, the noise and bustle subsided and I was regarded with some degree of caution by these slightly in-bred looking hill-folk who probably hadn’t had a visitor in Kristatani for some time. Regardless, I tossed the bartender a gold piece and sat down next to a wrinkled old man with a mug ale in my hand. Stunted conversation about the weather eventually led onto goblin jokes and then me discussing the Crown of Kings, of which my new drinking buddy was fully aware. He told me that two routes would lead me on, one past Aliannas home – which I would need my wits about me for, the other led into the hills to the Lea-Ki, domain of the great ones. I was also given a Bomba Apple, a fruit which would double the Stamina gain I got from whatever meal I chose to eat it with. Two Luck points were granted for this rather positive encounter, I decided that I’d shell out some more cash here as thanks to the local wild-life, I had no food of my own. Skunkbear stew was on the menu and I slept it and the beer off in a slightly dirty bed, in total gaining 8 Stamina and costing 5g.

I was given two options to continue my journey, page 125 and 226; unfortunately slim details considering I’d been given some indication of what lay ahead in the tavern, I was left to pure guesswork and opted for 125. Gnarled trees lined the road-side until I reached a clearing with a small turn-off with a signpost indicating that Alianna was to the west and Dhumpus was straight ahead. I liked the idea of a situation where wits would not be required, that sounded perfect for a slightly hung-over stroll in the hills, so I headed onward to Dhumpus. Climbing over the rise of a hill I saw the village below and descended into their midst, intending to go and meet the villagers. I spied a small group of them discussing something and so approached them, but found that they were agitated by the sight of my weapon. I offered to place it on the ground to show I meant no harm and they eased their stance somewhat, we spoke and it seemed I was talking to senior members of the village society, they shared some food with me for which I earned 1 Stamina and 2 Luck. But then, I dropped something of a social faux-pas as the conversation lightened by joking about the ‘buffoons of Kristatani‘, which of course was where one of the circle was from. He rose to challenge me and ended up chasing me round and round and out of the village. It was only after I was out of his reach that I realised I’d left my sword back in the village! Oh great. A penalty of 4 Skill was imposed upon me until I could find a new weapon, leaving me with a Skill of 6. No food, no weapon; I’m going to die out here.

Climbing up the hills night was starting to draw in and so I found what seemed like a safe place to camp, but unfortunately my rest was disturbed by a random encounter table which manifested itself in the form of a Wolfhound of 7/6 stats. Given that I’m now unarmed, combat is something I want to avoid at all costs and so I decided it was time for some magic. I used the LAW spell, this allowed me to talk to the wolf and send it scurrying back off into the night, leaving me to enjoy the rest of my sleep. My spell-casting cost me 4 Stamina, but I likely would have lost more than that in the fight anyway.

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Morning took me further up into the hills along a gentle slope until I came across yet another village, but this one didn’t seem to be in quite as good a state as the others I had seen. Huts were falling down and their inhabitants seemed in a bad way, limbs missing, leathery skin and sunken eyes. Something obviously wasn’t right here and so I decided to just get out of there, nothing good was going to come from these people. Especially that one in the bottom left, look at his little face, he’s not a happy chappy is he?

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On the way down from this un-named cess-pit of a village was the far more pleasant sight of a pretty, prosperous looking village nestling at the bottom of three hills. But before I could walk up to it I was suddenly in the company of a tiny green-skinned creature with wings who had appeared from the trees and sat down on my shoulder. The creature introduced itself to me as Jann, a Minimite, and he told me I was approaching the village of Birritani, the largest village in the hills where all adventurers end up spending a night in at some point. Jann seemed friendly enough, so I decided to let him tag along. I certainly love his illustration too, a real magic, fantastical quality to this one.

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Birritani was in the middle of some sort of festivities it seemed, Jann told me it was the ‘festival of the young’, which seemed to consist of kids doing whatever the hell they liked as, quite similar to many settlements in England, a number of them were sitting in the street drinking ale. A visit to the tavern seemed a good choice, so I dropped in for a pricey pint at 2g. The bartender chatted to me about my mission and told me that if I were headig for Khare, I would soon be passing through Torrepani and that the Svinns who live there are in a state of depression at the moment. I got 2 Stamina for the ale and 1 Luck for the information, Jinn had managed to get himself quite drunk by sipping at my ale but stuck with me as I headed off to the inn. Now it seemed that Birritani was quite happy with abusing its clients wallets as a room was 5g and a meal 4g… discounting my gems, I only had 11g left! As I was at near full Stamina for the moment, I figured I could go without a meal or a bed for one night and left Birritani to overcharge its customers. Luckily, I was able to sleep in the area surrounding the village and so avoided a random encounter and gained 3 stamina, but I instantly lost those 3 as I hadn’t eaten the day before. Jann was hovering about my head as I woke, I remain unsure of what his agenda is.

Leading away from Birritani were two paths heading west and east, I chose to climb up into the hills further by taking the easterly path. A beautiful smell began to fill my nostrils and I could see the path ahead led througha  field of black flowers, Jann told me that this was the quickest way to reach Torrepani, which was apparently the next village I had to hit on my way through to Khare. I’m pretty sure that a black lotus flower is the catalyst needed for one of my spells, so I carried on into the field hoping to pick one up on my way through. The smell was intoxicating and I began to skip, feeling light-headed and full of merriment, Jann also seeming to lose it too as he grinned with glee. I lost my footing and fell to the ground, landing on something hard which turned out to be a human skeleton! The black lotus flower emits a sweet-poison and I had come well under its effects. My consciousness slipped away and soon I was dead.

My adventure was over.

For now.

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The Shamutanti Hills – Part 1

Sorcery #1

The Shamutanti Hills

Your search for the legendary Crown of Kings takes you to the Shamutanti Hills. Alive with evil creatures, lawless wanderers and bloodthirsty monsters, the land is riddled with tricks and traps waiting for the unwary traveller. Will you be able to cross the hills safely and proceed to the second part of the adventure – or will you perish in the attempt?

Sorcery tells a story that takes place in the land of Kakhabad, a place which has never been ruled, and instead represents the evil, undesirable rejects from other regions who now call it their home. So much so that it became known as the ‘Verminpit’. While Kakhabad soaked up all the scum, other regions flourished. This was particularly so in the wake of the discovery of the Crown of Kings, however, the nature of its discovery is not revealled . Chalanna the Reformer, as he was known, hailed from the land of Femphrey and as the first to hold the magical Crown of Kings in his possession, he was able to use its power to bring peace and prosperity to his nation. Believing in the power of the Crown, Chalanna sent the crown around neighbouring kingdoms, passing from ruler to ruler, bringing good-times with it at every step. War and strife were virtually unknown.

However, when the crown came to Analand, things went south somewhat. On the night of the Black Moon, the crown was stolen by Birdmen from Xamen and taken to Mampang in Kakhabad where the Archmage of Mampang planned to take Kakhabad as his own kingdom and potentially pose a huge threat to the neighbouring nations who had previously held the crown, the Femphrey Alliance.

And this is where we come in. Starting off at the very edge of Analand, I have volunteered to travel across Kakhabad and reclaim the crown before it can be used for untold evil deeds.

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Bread and goat’s milk was for breakfast, not the heartiest of meals for someone being sent into the ‘verminpit’, but I’m only a volunteer I suppose. Preparing to leave Analand through the Cantopani Gate I was met by well-wishers, fully aware of my mission. Before I could set off, final words of guidance were offered by one of the Sight-masters, warriors who have far-seeing abilities that keep watch over the doorway between Kakhabad and Analand. Didn’t manage to see those Birdmen though, did you? Anyway, I was given a rough route to follow, the initial stage of my journey would take me through a number of small settlements across the Shamutanti Hills and would lead me to Khare on the Jabaji river. From there I would have to cross the Baklands, where day and night are supposedly controlled not by the sun, but by supernatural forces, which sounds pretty badass. He also gave me the fairly ominious information that from Khare onwards, my progress would be watched. I wasn’t told by who, but I’m presuming it’s gonna be the Archmage of Mampang. I stepped out of the gate in the crisp morning air, witnessing the rising sun and the natural beauty of the hills before me.

Through the eerie silence of the local scrubland I slowly progressed to a small village settlement at the base of the hills. A number of rounded clay huts with thatched roofs lay before me and suddenly a villager appeared, asking what my business in Cantopani was. Given that I began the adventure with two provisions and 20gp, I told him I was hungry and wanted to buy food. My character was fairly strong though, I’d rolled up stats of 10/21/11 and so I was in good stead for the hazards ahead. I was ushered into the village inn and it was at this point that I learned of the books hidden mechanic that you otherwise must discover for yourself. What is this? Dark Souls? What I learned was that this adventure is separated out into days and on each day you must eat or suffer a Stamina penalty, you also need to sleep and the quality of your sleep dictates how beneficial that sleep will be. I should also take the time to tell you about Libra – the goddess of justice; she is basically a replacement for the potion you normally start with, she will either restore all your stats to initial values, help you escape a conflict or cure a disease you have contracted. You can call upon her only once in each book at your discretion. Taking my new information on-board, I was offered two sets of provisions at 1gp each as well as a hot meal in the inn for another, so I handed over 3gp, threw some food in my pack and eat a hot meal at the inn.

About half an hour outside the village, the hills made me aware of their presence as the way forward started to get steeper. As the path ahead began to divide I was distracted by cries coming from the branches of a tree.

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Above me sat an old man in the lower boughs of the tree, unable to climb down on his own I helped him descend. He was most thankful, apparently he had been waylaid by Elvins who robbed him and left him up in the tree. Grateful for my assistance, he gave me a page from a spell book he had found, page 102 if you must know, but it the instructions for the casting appeared incomplete. I was also told a rhyme which he felt would assist me.

‘See him though he sees you not;
The black-eyed creature creeps.
A guardian once, but now his lot:
The key to freedom keeps.’

Before I moved on, it was apparent that the tree was making a subtle buzzing noise, a brief glance at the illustration hinting that a bee related incident was about to occur. I climbed the tree and raided the bees nest, a D6 roll indicating I’d lost 4 Stamina points in the process, but as a reward I’d obtained some honey – good enough for one meal and some beeswax – an essential ingredient for casting the spell ‘RAZ’, increasing sword damage. Igoring the path that led down into the valley below, I pressed on up into the hills where I soon found myself within a wooded area which presented an opportunity for some rest. After tucking into a meal I found that I would only receive a miserly 1 Stamina point as I had already eaten since leaving Analand, in this book your Stamina gain from eating is not a flat 4 Stamina increase, you get what the text tells you! Horror of horrors though, I picked up my wriggling back-pack to find a happy looking squirrel-like creature bolt out of it, the fat little shit had eaten ALL of my food! I’d built up a nice little stash to keep me going there and now I have nothing to eat at all. I’m going to die aren’t I?

Thankfully, I’d been stuffing myself today, so I was able to keep going on through the woodland trail until the light started to fade and I set up camp for the night. Doing this brought me to a random encounter table where a D6 roll dictates your fate, my camp allowing me some safety and adding 2 to my roll. This time I managed to get through the night undisturbed and so gained 2 Stamina for a good nights sleep. Stamina loss was avoided as I’d eaten well on day one… lets see how that goes now I have an empty lunchbox to continue on with.

Day Two

Having climbed a couple of hundred feet now, I reached the brow of a hill and was stopped in my tracks by the sight in the clearing to my left, numerous heads impaled on poles were looking at me through sewn-together eyes, some goblin, some human, some unknown. A large ‘X’ was painted on a tree as an obvious indication to go no further. Unfortunately, the direction in which to go no further was not as obvious as the sentiment, but I was reluctant to get into the technicalities of this with whoever was collecting heads for poles. Deciding to just keep going on up, I continued my climb into the hills. Noise and bustling activity began to emerge ahead of me and so I continued with caution, from a distance I could make out a number of goblins going in and out of what was apparently a mine carrying dull metallic nuggets. Were I quiet, I had the chance to sneak past them into the cave, so I took that option, waited for a chance and snuck into the darkness.

Shadows helped me remain undiscovered and they took me to a T-junction where I investigated the path to my right which led me up to a door. A spell to unlock the door was an option, but deciding to save the Stamina it would take to cast I decided to take advantage of my decent Skill score by barging it down, which only cost 1 Stamina as opposed to the 2 the ‘DOP’ spell would have. In the flickering candle-light which lit the room before me was a hideous ogre, grinding up rocks in a contraption of some kind. A horribly dark illustration, the style of which reminds me of probably my favourite Fighting Fantasy artist, Ian Miller.

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Growling fiercely, the ogre came crashing towards me and again neglecting to use my magic, I killed him in regular sword combat as he wasn’t too tough at 8/7. Searching his filthy work-place didn’t turn up too much I wanted to take with me, but a couple of gems were pocketed. Each would be worth 10gp to me when buying items or supplies, but I wouldn’t be able to receive change! Leaving the mine I passed a Luck test to again avoid the attention of the goblin workers and headed off downhill into the woods, a walk over a few hours which took me up to another village which, as it was now afternoon, would likely be my home for the evening. Heading for nearest inn, it was time for a beer and I settled in to bring this first part to a close and enjoy the company of some… erm… lovely locals…

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An epic adventure awaits YOU in the dark land of Kakhabad!

Screw your rules! I’m breaking away from the main series of Fighting Fantasy books for a short while to pay a long overdue visit to Kakhabad, the setting for Steve Jacksons four-book epic, Sorcery!

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I say long overdue for two reasons, firstly because I bought these books way back in February on eBay and secondly, because I haven’t read any of these titles before, let alone the full series. My intention with this blog was to read the books in chronological order, but I’ve already missed my opportunity, as I discussed with a reader in a comments section. The Shamutanti Hills, was the next book after City of Thieves, Cityport of Traps after Island of the Lizard King, Seven Serpents after Cavern of the Snow Witch and Crown of Kings after Talisman of Death. The Titanica Wiki has a timeline with all the book release dates –

http://fightingfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/1983
http://fightingfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/1984
http://fightingfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/1985

I figured I’d sat on these books long enough now and having got through my beloved House of Hell, it was a good time to try something new. The Shamutanti Hills has of course been thrust into the public eye recently thanks to a excellent looking iOS version by Inkle, and I say ‘excellent looking‘ as I haven’t actually given it a try myself due to saving my virgin run at the series for the actual books, which I’m now suitably excited to get stuck into! I’m fairly sure that Steve Jackson has stated that the Sorcery series is his favourite of the Fighting Fantasy books too, so there’s even more reason to get it read.

My childhood memories of these books are based around how intimidating I found them, my faithful Alley Books did stock the Sorcery series amongst the other titles, I remember picking up The Shamutanti Hills and seeing the other titles in that tiny little room at the back of the shop, but these were Advanced Fighting Fantasy. That was too much for me. I was puzzled by this off-shoot from the main run of books, why were they bigger than the regular books? Why was the font so small? I left them well alone.

The nature of the ‘Advanced’ part of the name is something that has actually escaped me until today, it appears that other than the more verbose nature of the writing and that the books go over the standard 400 references the main new game mechanic is based around magic. At the back of the each book is a spells section where a vast number of spells are detailed, each with their own three letter code and some with an item requirement. You are told you must learn these codes and must not look back at the spell-book once you have begun the adventure, you need to remember the codes when it comes to the moment you want to cast a spell or face penalties. We must also remember that as this is a multi-part story, your character passes over from one book to the next.

I’ll state right now before we get going that the artwork is fantastic. John Blanche is the man responsible and it appears that his only involvement with Fighting Fantasy was the Sorcery series, which is why they look so unique, but I you’ll have to wait until we start the reading to get to see it I’m afraid!

So how do I handle these titles? I’m intending to do them back-to-back, but I may eschew an introduction for each as I have little else to say and I also don’t want to spoil too much of the story for myself by reading around the subject. And as I said earlier, they run over the 400 references of a normal Fighting Fantasy book, part four, The Crown of Kings, hits 800! Therefore, I may have to go over my typical three-part structure. I’ll try and have a little wrap-up at the end of each one though I think, but some of this I may have to play by ear.

Ok then, let’s see what actually does await me in Kakhabad…