Are you ready for the most unusual Fighting Fantasy adventure yet?

Again, I’m messing with my own rules, that headline isn’t from Talisman of Death. I was a little torn over this one, I had originally intended to do this blog in chronological order, and that is something I do want to go back to. However, my copy of book 11 has gone missing in the post and even before that, I’d had an itch to do Creature of Havoc. This is a title that has constantly come up since I began the blog, whenever I have shamelessly plugged Fighting Fantasy Project online, a response of ‘can’t wait til you do Creature of Havoc!’ has cropped up. It’s fair to say that this could be an ernest desire to see me fail though as I am more than aware that Creature of Havoc is regarded as one of, if not the hardest of the Fighting Fantasy books. Which coming off the heels of The Crown of Kings, is making my brain wince slightly.

Reading up on Titanica, I discovered this quote from author Steve Jackson –

‘Creature of Havoc was another attempt at doing something different – setting the reader as a monster instead of a hero. And the feedback we were getting from readers is that they liked the adventures to be tough, so I made it as difficult as I could. Turns out readers found it more difficult that I thought!’

Now childhood-me can attest to this as Creature of Havoc is I think the only book I owned and never finished. Clearly a fact that stuck in my head as when I sold my original collection, I hung onto a couple of books and Creature of Havoc was one of them. So when I read this book, it’s the same copy I failed to complete over 20 years ago.

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As a consequence, there are some unfortunate scribbles. Whilst I loved my books greatly, I saw no issue with adding my own illustrations, Creature of Havoc got off lightly though and only took on this abomination.

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Thankfully, the visual side of the book is elevated significantly above poorly rendered morning-stars by Ian Millers cover, which Titanica tells me did see a slightly different look prior to the released version.

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Regarding the actual content of the story, I can’t remember a great deal, save for being in some sort of a cave maze near the start and never managing to find my way out. Titanica points out a cool piece of information though, that one of the bad-guys of this story, Zharradan Marr, was once one of three pupils of an Evil wizard called Volgera Darkstorm (the other two being Balthus Dire from the book The Citadel of Chaos and Zagor from the book The Warlock of Firetop Mountain).

Despite it’s difficulty level, Creature of Havoc remains a very popular title, as I mentioned earlier it is one which I am asked about frequently, but it has also received universally glowing feedback on the Reviews Archive and has in recent years seen digital versions released for iOS and Kindle. It seems Tin Man Games may be getting their hands on it at some point in the future too. Here’s hoping that come the end my opinions are equally enthusiastic, in fact, here’s hoping I can just get out of that cave system this time…

The Crown of Kings – Conclusions

Well that only took me six months to finish!

Blimey, what a ride. I’ll start off with looking at book four I suppose. The Crown of Kings was a very hard book indeed, there was a lot that went wrong there and running into obstacles, mainly in the form of the hardwood spear, forced me to do a lot of exploration to find out where I’d gone wrong, as you might expect from an 800 page title. I take a step back though and remind you that my failings began in the previous book, The Seven Serpents, where I failed to prevent all the serpents from arriving ahead of my in Mampang and telling all and sundry who to be looking out for. Had all seven died then I would have begun The Crown of Kings on page 237 and been given the information that anytime I am referred to as ‘the Analander’ I could deduct 40 from the reference and be sent to a version of events where you are not recognised. This would have saved many, many headaches along the way!

Despite being so tough though I really enjoyed this book, the epic scope just made it a fitting conclusion to this very epic series, this was the huge dungeon crawl that we hadn’t seen much of so far. It was more than just tricks and traps too, I particularly liked the kitchen encounter, the range of mutations was a real creative treat! My only real criticism I think would be the Archmage encounter, I loved how you are tricked into imprisoning yourself in the 2nd tower, but the actual fight itself was a little short. I remember the magic to-and-fro with Balthus Dire in The Citadel of Chaos and it would have been nice to see a more extended fight here as well. Having said that though, there were certain spell options I didn’t take, one of which accompanied by a rather cool illustration where the Archmage annihilates a wood golem you summon to fight for you.

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Something else I missed, but not from this book, was a locket. I was captured by Captain Cartoum during my infiltration of Mampang and was told to look for visual clues on his illustration. Well the clue went over my head, but it was the picture of the young lady on his wall I was supposed to be looking out for as way back in The Shamutanti Hills I could have found a locket bearing her image that if given to Captain Cartoum, he would have been so grateful to get a memento of his sweetheart he’d have sent me on my way with the key!

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When going back and forth through the book, one image continually caught my eye and made me wonder what it was about, but I never did land on it. It was this one –

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This was a simplistic version of darts, white numbers increasing your score, black numbers decreasing it. Winning the game was achieved by the first person to hit 10 or -10. Playing the game was as simple as ‘keeping a tight grip on your pencil, and keeping your elbow firmly in place, stab your book with your pencil!‘. Of all the bizarre mini-games in the Sorcery books, that’s clearly the most mental. All the poor books out there destroyed by over-enthusiastic 10 year-olds, all the thighs punctured by wayward ‘dart throws’.

And despite this awesome stabbing game, it has to be said that the encounter I regret missing the most was the devastating, the dreaded, the… cabbage-sized, Jib-Jib!!

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I already said in my read-through that the nether world demon was my favourite illustration from the book, but I am rather partial to a busy crown scene, and Mr. Blanche came up with another good one that passed me by. Some sort of mutant party I believe!

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And as much as I love reading toilet graffiti, I’m not sure I’d have enjoyed being in this particular latrine, and before you check, none of the scrawl mentions ‘cake’ or ‘lies’.

 

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I certainly didn’t expect this one to take up six parts, but to go into full detail as I always try to, I really did need the space to tell the experience as it happened as best I could. My map did sprawl out a bit as a consequence. Still don’t think it’s as bad as my House of Hell map though!

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As a whole the Sorcery series took my by surprise a bit, I really had no expectations as to what the books would be like and I had been sitting on them for months before I started reading them. When I started doing this blog it was about nostalgia and a means to make myself accountable in collecting the books and actually reading them again, I never really thought I would enjoy reading them as much as I have, but if I take only one positive thing away from the experience of blogging Fighting Fantasy it’s that I got to read the Sorcery books. They’ve been an absolute pleasure to read through and now I’m all done, I find it difficult to actually say which one I enjoyed the most! I loved the relaxing beauty of The Shamutanti Hills, the dirty urban sprawl of Khare, the desperation of hunting The Seven Serpents and the sheer tour-de-force scale of the final battle through Mampang, but if I have to go for one… I think it would be The Seven Serpents. I was so enthralled I did it in single sitting, there were so many elements I liked about the books central theme of a race against time and the discovery of the serpents weaknesses made it feel more exciting than the other, slower-paced books.

In general the Sorcery series really lives up to its name of Advanced Fighting Fantasy. The use of so many little tricks such as puzzles in illustrations, continuity between books, the rest and food mechanic, and the fact I actually had to make notes of clues and hints to be able to progress, it constantly kept the experience fresh and lively and took the medium about as far as I can imagine it going. If I had one criticism it would be that sometimes the spell casting didn’t really fit as I could only cast the spells offered to me when I was told I could use them, obviously this is a restriction based on how the book is written, but it is annoying when you just want to use that DOP spell to get a lock open, but you aren’t allowed because the puzzle doesn’t work that way, but that is a minor gripe at best.

All in all, it has been said that Steve Jackson’s favourite Fighting Fantasy book is the whole Sorcery epic, and now I know why.

The Crown of Kings – Part 6

We pick up the story having just been whacked over the head with a chamber pot by a fat-man who may or may not be the evil Archmage of Mampang Fortress, the man who stands between me and my goal, the Crown of Kings. Giving him the benefit of the doubt I tried to calm him down and have a talk. He told me his name was Farren Whyde and that he was not a native of Mampang, he had been brought here by bird-men so the Archmage could exploit his knowledge of science and weaponry, specifically regarding something which sounds an awful lot like gunpowder. Believing his story, I told him mine and was told that the Archmage doesn’t actually come to Mampang Fortress that often as he feels it in unsafe… FFS… However, Farren was able to tell me where I would find him.  A short spell was uttered in an odd language and the tower appeared out of nowhere, visible through the window as the invisibility spell it had been hidden by faded, There is the Archmage’s tower. That is where he stays!’, said Farren. An opportunity to cast a spell myself arose and so I went for DOC, I needed to get my Stamina back to a respectable level after that marble sheep had kicked me from wall to wall.

Farren told me one more thing, that a secret passageway was hidden within this tower along a specific solid wall and would be released by a password. My visit from Libra way back in part two detailed a hidden passageway that sounded much like this one, so I went to the wall and deducted 92 from the reference as Libra had told me, I held my breath and…. hooray! The wall creaked, cracked and the split open and a door began to open from within the rock, just in the nick of time as I could hear guards ascending the tower in pursuit of me. Zig-zagging down the hidden stairs I neatly avoided any further attention and was very relieved to find the Archmage’s tower still visible when I emerged. A winning Skill test later and I had the door barged down and was ready to go find me a crown.

Two doors led on from this point. I initially chose the right one, an empty circular room lay on the other side, a staircase on the opposite side. What put me off was the scratches that ran vertically from floor to ceiling along the walls. They’re gonna suddenly start moving and crush me when I step on them aren’t they? I still haven’t checked actually, but the option to go back to the left door was given so I gave that a shot. This room was dark but I could tell the floor was scattered with hay, I could also tell there was a smell of decay in the room. A large, bulky shape sat at the far side of the room and as I approached to investigate, it began to rise up…

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Easily one of the most utterly bizarre monsters I’ve seen illustrated in a Fighting Fantasy book, before me slumped a hydra. It was unlike any hydra I had seen before though, infact it had seven necks and no heads, the heads you see here slowly began to form at the end of the necks, one by one. I held back and waited for the remaining heads to form and allowed the creature to engage me in combat. However, as it advanced upon me, at the last moment it simply vanished. It had been an illusion! The bulky shape and stench in the air were both representative of the hydra corpse that lay on the floor, presumably having once guarded the tower. From this room I was able to progress further by climbing a staircase that wound up the tower until it stopped at a large, ornate door bound in brass. This was it.

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‘And who do we have here then?As if I did not know. The Analander!’. I had found the Archmage and I told him I had come to take back the Crown of Kings. Rather unexpectedly, he told me I could have it and was rather anxious to get rid of the thing. I didn’t buy this for a second and prepared for a fight! Being an Archmage I guessed he was going to have some pretty powerful magic at his disposal, so I chose to cast MAG, a magical protection spell. It seemed to have done the trick though as the rope the Archmage sent hurtling through the air to bind my hands stopped a few feet in front of me and fell harmlessly to the floor. ‘We will have to use less impressive means to capture the Analander’, he said, and before I knew it I was being marched off by guards to the prison cell at the top of the tower. Not again…

Oddly enough, in the cell I met a friendly face. All the way back in The Shamutanti Hills I met a minimite called Jann, well, today we meet Jann again! He was supposed to have proved quite annoying as the presence of a minimite prevents a person from casting all the but the most powerful of magic spells, but I hadn’t actually attempted to use magic when he was with me, so that one passed me by. After I ditched him though, the poor thing had apparently been following me, trying to keep up with my progress. Unwilling to enter Khare, he went around the city and tracked me across the Baklands, getting confirmation from Fenestra that he was on the right course before finally being captured by the Red-eyes and having his wings cut off to prevent his escape! Jann told me that what we were in was not actually the Archmage’s tower at all, this was his prison tower where he holds all his most valuable captives. Why Jann was that important to the Archmage I do not know. What did now make sense was the idea that Farren was not who he said he was. I brought this up with Jann and he sniggered and confirmed my suspicions, that had been the Archmage all along and I was told that should I encounter Farren again I could deduct 111 from the reference to expose him.

For now though, we were locked into a tower with seemingly no possible escape, I couldn’t use my magic due to Jann nulifying it but I could perhaps try to ambush the guards when they brought food. I asked Jann if he had any suggestions. After outlining again the futility of our predicament, Jann started talking magic. My traditional spells would not work around him, but there re a few spells that their protection doesn’t work against. He asked if I had strength to spare, the text asked if I had a Stamina above 8? Thanks to my DOC spell-casting from earlier, I did. ZED was the new spell I was learning, apparently a very powerful one too that the Spellbook did mention but conspicuously stated that its exact effects were unknown. Jann gave me a tangent-ridden description of the spell and to cut a long story short, it allows the user to control time and space. I decided to give it a go and everything when swirly and then un-swirled as I was no longer standing in the prison tower, but at the top of a spiral staircase in front of some heavy-set double doors. Now this really is it.

This had been the top of the tower I had previously ascended from the hydra room, and again, Farren was waiting for me there, only this time I had the information Jann had given me and deducted 111 from the page number. ‘So, the Analander knows our secret!’, he said, he began to tease me with the idea of the Crown of Kings itself and began to produce it from a nearby drawer. Whilst I was distracted by the shiny, a creature had begun to form over the now prone Farren Whyde, a Nether-World Demon, which frankly looked like it wouldn’t be out of place in the bowels of House of Hell. A fantastic illustration, probably my favourite from this book.

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As the thing was still in the process of forming when I attacked it, it was actually quite weak at 7/7, I did have a 5-round target to kill it, but with my superior skill and high Luck, this was quite easy to meet.

It appeared to me that the Archmage had attempted to turn into the nether-world demon to destroy me once and for all and having discarded his illusion, left the body of ‘Farren Whyde’ on the ground. Perhaps Farren Whyde was a real person the Arhmage had based his illusion around? A RES spell seemed an interesting option here, so I whipped out some Holy Water and set about bringing him back. I explained what had happened and he praised my efforts and everything I had done for him and the Femphrey Alliance. He set about repaying me in the best possible way – getting me the hell out of there. He produced a crystal ball from within a velvet bag and called upon the Samaritans of Schinn. Peewit Croo, their Chief Disciple was to come to my aid, he was a bird-man and was going to fly me and the crown home.

The Crown was on its way home, the Archmage was dead and somewhere in The Shamutanti Hills, a squirrel is set-up for food over this winter and possibly even the next.

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My adventure was over and I have earned a rest.