A dangerous undercover mission on a wild and lawless planet!

I approach The Rings of Kether with concern.

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While I did eventually read it, my childhood brain remembers little of this one, save for seeing it in WH Smiths on many an occasion and overlooking it due to the sci-fi setting not being as exciting to me as demons and broad-swords, but also because of the strange fat man who intimidated me. Only in my adult years have I realised that the billowing red cloak he wears is in-fact a desolate red planet stretched out behind him. And while we’re on the subject of the cover art, a little Googling reveals that what appears to be the original is out there in private hands…

So my concern is not based so much on memories, but on my experience with Space Assassin, a book I didn’t get on with all that well which was also written by The Rings of Kether author, Andrew Chapman. To save you the click, I summed up Space Assassin by quoting Bernard Black from Black Books, ‘Enjoy. It’s dreadful but quite short.’.

Now we have to give Mr. Chapman a chance here, even though I fear his long, unending corridors, as Titanica quotes him as saying this was a much more focused effort. The Rings of Kether was actually planned as book 12, which turned out to be Space Assassin, as revealed in The Seven Serpents, which allows me to lazily re-use this picture from my Temple of Terror introduction.

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If we get into the story of the book, it’s basically The Wire in space. Our hero is an undercover agent, sent by the Galactic Federation to infiltrate a drugs network responsible for flooding the Aleph Cygni system with that well known narcotic, Satophil-d. Oh go on, admit it, we’ve all got off our tits and slapped on some Happy Mondays after a few tabs of Satophil-d, but no more! The introductory text is barely a page long so that’s about all we’re getting for now in terms of details.

Reading around, it does seem this adventure is a fairly open-ended affair, which perks my interest, and there are some unique rules to consider as well. Combat is split between blaster, hand-to-hand and ship-to-ship variations. Blaster combat is differentiated by 4 Stamina of damage being done per hit compared to the regular 2, which is used here in hand-to-hand. Ship combat uses new stats called Weapons Strength and Shields, both 1D6+6, which pretty much replace Skill and Stamina. Another option is provided by Smart Missiles, which destroy an enemy ship in one hit, but I am limited to just two. Provisions are replaces by Pep Pills, restoring 6 Stamina each, but I only have 4. Currency is in the form of kopeks, of which I have 5,000.

Finally, if you want to see what the book looks like in motion, here’s a Youtube channel which has videos of Fighting Fantasy books. I know you’re all desperate for that niche to be filled!

 

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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!

I’m sticking my neck out on this Facebook fad

Just a small piece of shameless self-promotion here, letting you know that I’ve created a Facebook page for this here blog. A ‘Like’ would be appreciated, and there should now be a little button down the side here so you can do just that without having to leave the page. All my scans have been uploaded to the Facebook page, so you do have some incentive to go visit it if you fancy idly browsing the artwork. Getting more people involved makes this far more interesting for me and hopefully helps boost the community of Fighting Fantasy fans that are out there. Share some images of demons, dragons and human sacrifice with your friends, they’ll think you’re totally metal! Just don’t share any of that crappy Starship Traveller art or you’ll lose friends, lovers and respectability.

You can of course continue to get all updates and plenty of extra bits on Twitter too.

So yeah, check it out here.

Next book will be started shortly!

Three more on the pile!

Reached my days off work and pillaged the charity shops of Canterbury to see what I could find earlier today. I had a rather fine yield too as the Oxfam Books shop and a 2nd hand book shop I had never visited before turned up with the goods.

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All three for £1 each and mostly in superb condition. Oxfam gave me City of Thieves and The Trolltooth Wars, Star Strider from the 2nd hand book shop. Oxfam rather oddly had two copies of The Trolltooth Wars, a book I have never read, one edition slightly older than the other. I took the older one, which had foil lettering on the cover and was priced on the back at £2.99, it was in slightly worse condition than its twin though which lacked the foil lettering and was priced at £3.99. Oxfam also had a copy of Forest of Doom, but being one of the 2003 editions, it remained on the shelf. Similarly, the 2nd hand place had a 2002 edition of Citadel of Chaos, but scholars of my last posts infographic know the score here…

Tomorrow, I’m heading over to Ramsgate and its juicy vein of charity shops waiting just waiting for my wallet syringe. This could end up being as much fun as reading them!