Creature of Havoc – Conclusions

Wow, where do I start with this one?

First I think I should take a moment to actually look at my notes as I’ve taken a while to get this one written up. Reasons for this range through time away from home and the release of Dark Souls 2 (I really am glutton for punishment, aren’t I?), but mainly the fact that I needed a little break from the book! I knew it was going to be hard, you don’t maintain a legend as being such a tough little son-of-a-bitch for going on thirty years for nothing, but I didn’t anticipate it being so utterly draining. I certainly didn’t expect to follow up the six-part Crown of Kings with another six-parter. There were some very tough moments in this book that went beyond the usual problem solving of trying a different door or branch of a junction, despite this though my map was still 100% necessary, even though it ended up sprawling over a couple of sides of paper…

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I’m very much up for a challenge and the fact this book has eluded me for years was a great motivation to get it done, but one of the main mechanics to add difficulty I didn’t find all that fun, and that was the translation sections. I like the idea of having hidden elements to the puzzles, but it doesn’t half take a long time to translate what the encrypted passages actually say. Good idea in theory, maybe not in practice when the passages are so lengthy. I also disliked the fact that there was a certain element of fuzzyness to the cypher, certain aspects of translation were left for the reader to figure out. As I said in the text, you aren’t explicitly told how to handle consonants, I would have been happier if there was a rock-solid set of rules to solve these language puzzles.

Then there are the ‘errors’. There are a few references which seem to send you in the wrong direction and then the big one, the passage beginning with the wrong key-phrase in the early dungeon section which prevents you progressing. Given how Steve Jackson went out of his way to make this as hard as possible, I looked into whether or not this was in-fact an error or an attempt to be a giant pain in the arse! Asking Twitter, I gained no solid answer, but the feeling seems to be that Steve isn’t that mean afterall and it was a genuine error. Some discussion I read online suggests though that it was an attempt to push ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ into new ground, if it were intentional I would say that it’s not being hard, it’s just cheating the reader you handed a set of rules to. It wouldn’t be good design to change those rules and not tell anyone.

I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed things that explain away the things I got stuck on or had to guess through, for instance a reader points out how I might have figured out that the mirror was the way to discover Marr at the end. My technique was brute-force guess work, the more elegant method was to have noted the clue in this passage from the scroll I read – ‘A world of illusion in which where he appears to be he is not. AND A WORLD IN WHICH THOSE SEARCHING FOR HIM WOULD INSTEAD FIND THEMSELVES’. Sounds a bit like a mirror, yes? I’m an idiot. This is the kind of thing that I like though, the book is too clever for it’s own good by being so subtle, I wouldn’t normally think to pay attention to such things in a Fighting Fantasy book, but this pushes the books in the right direction as far as increased difficulty is concerned.

My companion, Grog, was also a nice touch , a mechanic that reminded me of the kinda trick Steve Jackson would routinely pull in the Sorcery books. I particularly liked the fact that he appeared to save you from certain death, assuming you were paying attention to the page reference anyway. At that point in the book you’ve seen so much failure, being told your adventure is over when you were so sure you’re on the right track is a cruel move indeed!

Another pointer I was given by a reader was regarding the Chattermatter, as you may remember I went blundering into it’s clutches at first attempt, but had I looked at the illustration closer, I might have noticed some evil eyes lurking up top in the dark…

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I certainly love clues and solutions in illustrations, if there are any others in this book that I passed over, feel free to drop them into the comments section below!

A few favourite illustrations of events I missed are all pretty metal it seems, you can’t beat some grave dwelling monsters…

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…and these things belong on stage with Bruce Dickinson.

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What has to be said though, that despite it’s niggles, despite it’s insanely hard difficulty, it is a brilliant title. The structure is meticulous, it feels like every single detail was considered and given an element of meaning. It has certainly made me want to make sure I read The Trolltooth Wars at some point as I want to learn more about the area and the locations in it. Story-wise it’s about as good as Fighting Fantasy books get, to give it such praise I have to say it reminds me of the brilliant film Memento, in that little makes sense until the very end. You can piece elements together, but the last few details given to you in that lengthy but gripping scene with Marr tie it all together perfectly. I haven’t even mentioned how much fun it was to be a hulking great beast either! That really is the reward to being in such a hard adventure, feeling like such a powerful being was another unique aspect to this book, I will miss the double-roll-insta-kill in the future! Truth be told, there is so much detail and layered elements to the story and the style of game, I can’t even begin to cover it all, Creature of Havoc almost deserves a blog of its own.

Were all Fighting Fantasy books this hard, I don’t think I’d be sat here now writing a blog about them with such enthusiasm, but that the experiment was conducted to see just how infuriating they could be made, I am glad. Like Dark Souls I mentioned earlier, the satisfaction of getting through the tough times is ultimately worth the despair of not knowing where to turn or how to progress.

Give it a go, it’ll drive you nuts, you’ll love it.

And while you do that, I’m going to have a lie down and dream about reading Freeway Fighter or Robot Commando…

 

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Creature of Havoc – Part 6

Rosana the strange friend of Grog had pointed me in the direction of some Sculliweed last time around, but not only that, she’d given me a coil of rope as well. You never know when that might come in handy afterall. I set off  to the north but as the moon began to climb into the sky and the light fell, I had a bit of a sleep behind a boulder for 4 Stamina points before continuing on until I reached a junction. This was another point that struck a bell in my head as I remembered another error I had read of where the signposted destinations at this junction were the wrong way around. One direction pointed to Coven, one to Bu Fon Fen. Seeking Toadmen in a Fen seemed like the logical choice, so I made for the sign that didn’t point in that direction… if that makes sense!

As the ground became muddier and the bull-rushes began to pop up I figured I’d got it right. I was doubly sure when I started to notice giant, webbed footprints appearing in the mud. Unfortunately, I’d missed the way these footprints led around the edge of a clearing as I happily flounced right through the middle of it. Of course this was a potentially lethal decision as the center of the clearing was home to a large area of deep mud, deep enough to see me sinking into it and leave me struggling to escape. Grog? Little help? No? Well it’s a good job Rosana gave me that rope five minutes ago as I was able to chuck it over a nearby tree stump and pull myself free by the virtue that this was Elven rop… I mean enchanted rope which knotted itself around the stump. Two large eyes staring at me from the surface of the mud were equally impressed by the performance of my rope and a thin, webbed hand shot out of the dirt and swiped it away from me.

Following the trail further into the swamp took me down towards a river bank where a large number of colourful plants were growing. Bulbous eyes stared up at me from within them, blinked and then turned and shuffled off into the undergrowth. Grog advised leaving whatever this creature was well alone and I agreed. I was far more interested in the plants. I chose to take some flowers with blue stems as this fitted the description of the Sculliweed I was searching for. I was told to make a note of the number 49.

Before I knew it, I was beset by one of the Toadmen I’d had a fleeting encounter with earlier, standing as tall as myself and carrying a trident, I attacked him before he could react. After I was victorious, I realised my foe had back-up…

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I was screwed, ‘None may enter the fens of the Toadmen. There is only one punishment for disobeying this law. That is DEATH…’. I was overwhelmed, I was subdued and dropped into the Sinkpits of the Bu Fon Fen to die.

Or at least that’s what I thought had happened, at the last moment I noted the page reference ended in a 7 – Grog! I deducted 52 and I was saved. Grog was sneaking around the edge of the clearing and launched into some suicidal, flying leap to attack what appeared to be the leader of the Toadmen. Unfortunately, Grog wasn’t as quiet as he thought and as he sailed through the air, one of the Toadmen noticed him and slung his trident through Grog’s neck. But as (my) luck would have it, Grog’s body clattered into the leader and sent him sprawling into one of the sinkpits. Losing the guy in charge caused a panic and I used the opportunity to get out of the situation and ran off into the undergrowth. Before his bodged attack though, Grog had taken his backpack off and I snatched it up as I escaped. Inside was a wooden box with a clasp too delicate to open, I took it with me anyway along with the more immediately useful potion of fortune I found in his bag.

Leaving the fens, the moon began to make another appearence, so after a hard days toad slaying and flower picking, I again decided to take a snooze by a rock. This time I was rudely awoken by the Women of Dree, chattering and nattering about their root. I added my magic 49 number to the reference as instructed. ‘Ssssssso! The creature sssssssssuceedssss!’, they were pretty happy with their root. Holding up their side of the bargain, they started to lay out some knowledge for me. I was the creation of Zharradan Marr, but he was in turn their creation and he was getting out of control, his evil and chaos needed to be nulified to keep the balance. Knowing that his plans would be spoiled by the Women of Dree, they needed to use me to get close to Marr as his own vanity would not turn away his own powerful creation. One more ally was out there they said, Weaseltongue, a white-haired elf in Knot Oak Wood who knows the location of the Galleykeep, Marr’s ship. Weaseltongue lies though, only his sentences which begin with a vowel are truths and the Women gave me a ring of truth to use if I was struggling to get the full truth out of him by deducting 50 from the reference.

Weaseltongue sounded awfully similar to the elf I had met being attacked by the Brigands back in Part 5 before I poisoned myself and I after I left the Women, I was right next to the creature I rode all the way to him. So retracing my steps a little I got to the relevant point in the encounter and after asking about the Galleykeep, I produced the ring of truth. I should point out that the Galleykeep is a flying ship and Weaseltongue told me that it rarely came to ground around these parts, but I might find my way on board by one of the catapult traps hidden in the woodland which are used to catch food. He also told me that Marr would be hidden in a specific room on the Galleykeep, this room would be marked by a symbol, the exact symbol he didn’t know, but he gave me a riddle which should help me out –

‘When fire meets ice, who ends the fight?
Who stands between the two?
His symbol keeps them both apart,
Not red, nor white, but blue.’

I marched off into the undergrowth to try and get catapulted onto a floating ship, it seemed I was in the right area as a break in the trees revealed a dark shape floating above me in the sky which could only be the Galleykeep. A quick Luck test later and I was jumping into a trap, being hoisted into the air and left dangling in a net not long before the ship passed overhead and hoisted me up on-board! The two goblins who pulled me up didn’t last long against me, but the commotion appeared to have attracted attention and so I bolted through a door to hide which took me below deck. Weaseltongue had been correct about the traps and now I knew he was right about the doors with the symbols too.

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I’d already decided the answer was water before I’d seen this image, the jug on the right confirming my suspicions and so I tried that door. This took me into a dingy room, devoid of life, but was fully furnished, I had the option to check the wardrobe, mirror, desk, spiral stairs or a brass-trimmed device. To cut a long story short, all of these options resulted in me being overwhelmed by guards and my inevitable death. I was running out of ideas now. Scrambling through some of my notes saved me though, so many threads dangling in this book, I’d totally forgotten about the translated text I had found in Part 3.

‘If at some time in the future you believe you have located the entrance to Marrs netherworld deduct the page number above from the reference you are on at the time and turn to this reference.’

I tried this on the wardrobe and nothing… I tried it on the mirror and… there we have it! Before me, Marr began to materialise, a humanoid sitting in a library (indeed, the very character and scene depicted on the books cover!) and he began to speak. ‘So! Like a salmon fish, my creation returns to its home! And you have safely returned to me the vapour!‘. He told me of his work with marrangha, the magical transmutation of limbs and body parts from one creature to another, and his attempts to conduct this awful magic with a human subject had been done with me and my friends – ‘you and your colleagues were my first successes with higher animals‘. The rest of his experiments were rejected and left to scrape together an existence within the dungeons below Coven, where I had begun my adventure, ‘you and your crew were transported there!’. The room in the ship started to look familiar to me, ‘I see it is coming back to you now, you recognise this room, a little dusty now. I regret that your officers have not fared so well. Remember Ligge, the first mate? He took the form of a Blood Orc and was placed in charge of the blind fool, Hannicus. And Burgon the cook? You ran into him soon enough. The fat man was transformed into a Hobbit’.

So as it turns out, I was back in my own private quarters of my own ship and had just been given the news that unbeknownst to me, I had eaten my own chef. Marr really wanted one thing though, what was in Grogs backpack. I had already opened the vapours of reasoning and language, but Grog had the vapour of life and that was what Marr wanted me to deliver to him. Refusing only served to anger him and he began to cast a spell, but the magical eleven dust I had encountered by the Chattermatter was blocking his evil magic and he was unable to exert his true force on me.

Now was my chance, I took my crystal club and swung it at the mirror, spraying glass about the room, destroying the portal between his netherworld and this. Turning towards the door, I felt a shot of pain from a shard of glass which should really have been blocked by my scaly skin. But looking down my foot had returned to that of a normal human! Marrs experiments were performed by sorcery, not surgery and his disappearance had broken the spell. The full memory of events returned to me, Marr had attacked my ship, his forces on Tooki, specially bred War Griffins, overwhelming the crew and forcing the survivors into surrender, only to be subjected to Marrs horrible experiments. But I had my revenge and his brainless creatures would now serve and respect my authority.

My adventure was over.

A realised fantasy

A long while has passed since I had a good charity shop find, but as my Twitter and Facebook peeps already know, yesterday you could say I made up for that. By now I can scan up and down a shelf of books and tell you if there’s a Fighting Fantasy title there within a second or two, what I wasn’t expecting from Canterbury Oxfam was for the whole shelf to be made up of Fighting Fantasy books!

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I haven’t seen the like since the early 90’s! Needless to say I was taking a picture of the display within seconds and rifling through to pick out my share of the loot. I should point out that these are all Fighting Fantasy books too, not just the face of the shelf. Despite this though, I only came away with six books as a lot of the titles were ones I already own, although it does seem somewhat ungrateful of my luck to say ‘only’. I believe the titles I left on the shelf were Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Sky Lord, Creature of Havoc, Island of the Lizard King, Trial of the Champions, Star Strider, Caverns of the Snow Witch…. and in my excitement I forgot the others.

What did I walk out with, then?

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All in really good condition too, the adventure sheets haven’t been touched and there is barely a crease or dog-ear to be seen.

So, where the hell has this mother-load come from? It seems that someones old collection has been taken out of storage and dumped into an Oxfam shop and kept together as a job-lot, you see each book has a name written on the inside cover, ‘R. Bennett’. There is also a number written, a different one on each book, so maybe he numbered them as he read them? I don’t know, but whoever you are Mr. Bennett, I hope you don’t end up regretting giving them away. And if you do, you could always start a blog…