Time to give those Harpoon Flies another shot… 5. Dead again. Okaaaaay, roll again… 2. There. Now we may proceed. If we had rolled a 3 or a 4 we would have survived as well, although with a loss of 6 Stamina and 2 to our Skill (!) AND we would be forced to drink one of our doses of healing potion (and be denied it’s Stamina restoring effects). As it stands, we only lose 4 Stamina and the dose of potion.
I think of these kind of encounters as Gatekeepers. They lie along the One True Path and must be negotiated. The Harpoon Flies are a particularly egregious example. They present a significant chance at instant death (if we were playing fairly we would have had to roll three new characters in the space of about ten minutes), they hit our stats by a not insignificant amount even when the roll goes our way, and worst of all is that we have no agency when dealing with them. It’s entirely up to the luck of the roll. No choice or item or character stats has any bearing on the encounter. We’re not even given the satisfaction of resolving combat. If choice is the heart and soul of the gamebook experience then the Harpoon Flies are the ultimate sin. They disregard the core of the format in favor of a bit of randomness.
Of course we could chose to avoid the flies altogether (and considering that even the best outcome of the encounter results in a penalty, a ignorant player might deduce that doing so is the correct course of action), but that would just doom us later on. As we replayed and learned the shape of the book we would find that a meeting with the flies is inevitable.
Oh well, we’re past them now. Let’s continue.
We continue to travel north but are eventually and arbitrarily forced to cross the river and head east. We spy an plume of smoke on the far side of a hill. Investigating, we find a burned shack and an arrowed miner. With his dying breath he warns of an orc raiding party and entrusts us with a knife, a gold nugget, a vial of holy water, and a Crystal of Sanity which promises to protect us from mental attacks. Pretty good haul considering we just happened by.
As we continue along our horse suddenly freaks out. A couple of bad rolls here can lead to another instant-death, but with Rull’s Skill of 13 it’s impossible for us to lose them. Woe be to any Skill 7 heroes who venture through here. Turns out our horse was spooked by a trio of Chameleonites, a fun twist on your standard lizard-man. Since we managed to stay on horseback we get a +2 bonus to our attack strength thus further trivializing an already pathetically easy battle.
Victorious, we’re given to option to bathe in the Chameleonite’s magic blood which gives us the once-per-lifetime benifit of perfect camouflage. Of course we do so. This is Crypt of the Sorcerer though, and things aren’t so easy. Again we must roll, and a 1 or 2 the blood poisons us, dealing stat penalties. A 2 comes up and so we lose 4 points of Stamina and 1 point of Skill bugger it all.
Moving on we come to the Valley of Bones. Here we meet The Bonekeeper, a little man who carves rings out of, well you can guess. He asks for a new knife with which to whittle. By trading him ours he’ll give us a Ring of Werewolf Protection. Or we can chose to attack him. We act like any hero would and cut down this simple old man (he fights with sharpened thigh bones, which is a nice touch). The Valley of Bones curses us for our heroics and we lose 3 points of Luck. We do get our pick of The Bonekeeper’s rings however. In addition to the Werewolf ring we’ve got a choice of one marked with a dagger and one with a skull. The dagger ring will summon the vengeful spirit of the Bonekepper and get us stabbed. We take the skull ring instead and continue on our merry way.
The next point of interest is a moss covered stone engraved with a bit of poetry.
To go beyond a granite door, press the numbers one eight four.
Crucial information just out somewhere on a rock. Never accuse the Fighting Fantasy books of being illogical.
Next up: some goblins come. We’re given the choice of engaging them or running away. Seeing as these guys aren’t frail old men, we decide that discretion is the better part of valor. We ride off to a nearby forest that the goblins refuse to follow us into.
We soon find out why as the forest itself rises to attack us. We have to test our Skill again. If we failed and didn’t find the knife earlier this would be another instant-death (Crypt has a lot of these if you couldn’t tell, more than 10% of the book in fact). We don’t fail though, because we are RULL and so we can face the Wood Demon on our own terms.
With a Skill of 9 and a Stamina of 10, the Wood Demon is the hardest foe we’ve encountered so far. It gets a couple of lucky hits on us before we’re able to destroy it. By now our Stamina is down to 15. We sip a dose of Healing Potion, leaving us with three uses left. Searching about, we find one of the Wood Demon’s previous victims. On its person is a hollow rod etched with the number 39 (a sure sign it is important), a bit of gold, a candle, and a scroll. The scroll tells us of the mythical Gargantis, a horrifying creature who’s single horn holds all sorts of magical properties. Apparently one of these creatures is holed up in a place called The Howling Tunnels.
There’s also a helmet on the body, but it is cursed with an aging spell. Wearing it will turn us old and hit us with a big stat loss. Not that you would ever know this without trying it on first.
Moving through the forest, we come to a clearing filled with fungus. Crossing it would hit us with a nasty 1D6 hit to our Stamina, but going around is easy enough and soon we are out of the woods. The rest of the day passes uneventfully but during the night were attacked by a werewolf. We could avoid the fight with the werewolf ring, but we have to know how to use it, which would mean leaving the Bonekeeper alive. Doing so would deny us the skull ring and so the first becomes a Gatekeeper.
The werewolf has a Skill of 8 and if it hits us AT ALL we’re cursed with lycanthropy. This means game over unless we have the Crystal of Sanity (which protects us from the curse entirely) or the candle (which will allow us to search for healing herbs in the dark, and thus shifting the instant death behind a Luck check).
Thanks to Rull’s high skill we’re able to defeat the werewolf without getting cursed. The next day we spy the Lost Lake where Kull’s magic sword is said to be hidden. Before we can reach it however, a wild woman riding a griffin swoops down and begins to attack.
A Skill 10, Stamina 10 encounter, this is not an easy or quick fight. At least there are no special conditions to make things even harder. Luck is with us and we walk away from the fight with only a loss of 2 Stamina. Defeating the woman nets us her sword and shield. I guess we’ve just been punching things up to this point. The sword grants us a +2 bonus to Skill, but we can’t exceed our initial value. At least it makes up for that point we lost earlier. The shield turns out to be a magical one named Defender. It also grants a Skill bonus and nets us a point of Luck as well.
I’ve never understood the “can’t exceed starting values” rule in Fighting Fantasy. Equipment that increases stats is rare in these books to begin with. Why not have them provide bonuses rather than just negating previous losses? After all, getting stronger is one of the hallmarks of RPGs. Leveling up is fun, it makes the player feel good, and a form of character growth would give the books some dynamism. The thing is, a gamebook author doesn’t win when the player loses. The author and player are crafting an experience together, not competing against each other. Why keep the player down?
On the way to the lake we come across an iron box with a clay doll inside. Touching it causes it to magically grow into a Clay Golem. It has a Skill 8 and a Stamina 9 (attacks in Fighting Fantasy do 2 points of damage to Stamina. So an odd amount of Stamina always means an extra round of combat). The Golem has an extra property, because our sword is a poor weapon to use on clay there’s a 1 in 6 chance every round that it will get stuck. If this happens the Golem just up and strangles us. Assuming we win every round, that’s a minimum of five chances for our sword to get stuck. That gives the Golem something like a 40% chance to instantly kill us. We can bring that possibility down by testing our Luck. By rolling under our current value we do 4 points of damage, thus reducing the total number of rounds. Of course if we fail we only 1 point and extend the battle. And each test regardless of outcome reduces our total Luck by 1, making any further tests more difficult.
We win the first round and reduce the Golem’s Stamina to 7. We roll a 6 for the stuck sword check and so the battle continues. Rull’s Skill of 13 really is miraculous. We dominate the next four rounds and the Golem never gets a hit. That’s not the real danger though. The chance of losing the sword isn’t affected by stats at all. Like the Harpoon Flies, it’s a crapshoot. 4…3…2…4 Our luck holds out and we defeat the Golem with ease. Not that we had anything to do with it. It was simple luck that our adventure didn’t end here.