Saturday, 17 February 2018

The Second Swordsman - In Safe Hands?

It is one year to the day since Malcolm Garcia posted his first The Second Swordsman piece. Since then write-ups of another twelve attempts have been posted, featuring 35 different Fighting Fantasy adventures!

Today, to mark the first anniversary of The Second Swordsman, Malcolm presents his 14th post, which is intriguingly entitled...


The Second Swordsman - In Safe Hands?

By Malcolm Garcia

While several of the FIGHTING FANTASY adventures I have recently attempted have had an oppressive atmosphere, namely House of Hell, Phantoms of Fear and Spellbreaker, few authors create an unremitting sense of despair as well as Stephen Hand. All of his three books are based in the northwestern part of the Old World, a continent I hadn’t visited since an earlier attempt at using the Second Swordsman process on a trio of adventures by Jonathan Green. And in each of Hand’s books a feeling of dread pervades the somewhat-medieval world that YOU move through in your quests.


In Legend of the Shadow Warriors YOU are an army veteran who, somewhat skeptically, accepts the task of investigating claims of shadowy riders terrorizing the village of Karnstein, deep in the mountains of the Witchtooth Line. In Moonrunner YOU are a bounty hunter who is hunting (or should that be, is being hunted by) the evil war criminal Karam Gruul through the city of Blackhaven, a place that somehow makes Port Blacksand seem like a nice spot to retire to. And in Dead of Night (co-authored with Jim Bambra) YOU are a Demon-Stalker who is being plotted against by your old adversary, the Demon Lord Myurr, who is out for revenge after YOU have foiled too many of his horrid schemes. [These three titles were also all illustrated by Martin McKenna - Ed.]

While sticking with choosing every second option didn’t have me ignoring huge amounts of things in these books (as it has previously done so), it did mean I did some pretty stupid stuff, sometimes with significant consequences.

In Legend of the Shadow Warriors I started off promisingly enough when using the Second Swordsman process. Although I had a purse of gold I chose not to try and supplement it through gambling – while this worked in Legend of Zagor it failed to gain me any money in both Seas of Blood and Bloodbones. At the markets in Royal Lendle I bought every second item, including metal rot, a chameleon cloak, and a mirror (which would have been handy against the Mountain Basilisk in my previous adventure in Night Dragon). Although what I could get was limited by my budget, I generally enjoyed this process more than looking for individual objects in cupboards and under rocks. My first major NPC encounter was with Gallantaria’s chief tax collector, who I unsuccessfully tried to bribe and who then put me in jail for the, surely near-irrelevant in Titan, crime of unpaid taxes.

Luckily my quest did not end there (unlike when I was imprisoned in both Bloodbones and Black Vein Prophecy) and I managed to escape after fighting the jailer (although I was somewhat blasé about the fact that I’d added murder to my previous charge of tax evasion). As I made to leave through one of the city gates I was again confronted by the tax collector. With a poor starting LUCK score I was unlucky and put in a better-guarded jail. My adventure thus ended without even leaving Royal Lendle.

I started Moonrunner with similar SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK scores to those in Legend. As an experienced bounty hunter YOU are able to choose several special skills at the beginning – I selected every second one, of course. The book started ominously with the man I had been talking to in the background section being killed by a throwing dagger. Thanks to my recently acquired lock picking skill I obtained some gold pieces and potentially useful paperwork from his office. My searching of the room was interrupted by some guards, but I was able to use another of my skills to confuse them and escape – thus avoiding having another adventure end in my imprisonment.

As my exploration of Blackhaven got under way, by choosing every second option I then callously decided not to give a beggar a single gold piece (even though I could easily afford to) and then not to pursue her killer, the fantastically named ‘The Shocker’. Instead I headed for the local asylum and, after turning down an offer of a drink from the deputy director (being keen to avoid what happened when I did that in House of Hell) I gained some information about Gruul from one of the inmates. But then I got locked up, again! I escaped only after fighting a Frankenstein-esque creature and headed for another potentially useful source of information, but he turned out to be dead too. In my search of his room I gained some more gold and paperwork, but this time the letter was from Gruul himself, and it had been laced with mocking words and a poison which killed me instantly.

As with Moonrunner, at the start of Dead of Night YOU can choose three skills that YOU have learned during your life as a Demon-Stalker. As the Second Swordsman I chose every second one and also picked up some gold, holy water and an ominous vision of my parents and Myurr. Because YOU are an adventurer who can stray close to the dark side, there is also a personal EVIL score for YOU to keep track of.

I began by arriving in my home village of Crowford after ignoring a mocking skeleton and went to visit the local priest. He told me my parents were dead, but that their graves have been taken over by demons. Although I could sense the demonic presence I chose not to confront the blight and thus earned my first EVIL point for being generally unhelpful. My next destination was that of a seer who conducted a summoning to help me in my quest; but the demon that was summoned killed her and I had my first fight on my hands.

After slaying the demon I left the seer’s cottage, which was now in flames, and chose to also ignore a group of peasants and an opportunity to pray. When I arrived in the next village I chose not to use one of my skills and narrowly escaped a swinging blade trap. Luckily I was rescued by the locals who told me of the onslaught their village was under from a swarm of Moon Demons. Rather than staying and helping the villagers – as any proper Demon-Stalker would – choosing the second option had me again being unhelpful and I abandoned them to their fate and walked outside, only to slip in the mud and be torn to shreds by the swarm.

Compared to other FIGHTING FANTASY books, while this trio by Hand had plenty of atmosphere, there was not much actual fighting. In my short-lived adventure in Legend I managed to only have one fight and, although I was unarmed (having been relieved of my sword when taken into custody), I defeated the SKILL 8 STAMINA 7 Jailer without losing a single round. I also had only one fight in Moonrunner, but this was a tough one against the SKILL 11 STAMINA 14 Kauderwelsch Monster. I was down to seven STAMINA when this battle was mercifully brought to an early conclusion by a riot of asylum inmates. For consistency I also only had one fight in Dead, against the summoned SKILL 8 STAMINA 8 Spirit Demon, which I killed after losing two rounds of combat, but which robbed me of a potentially useful ally.

In the end it was stupid decisions that brought about my failure in using the Second Swordsman process in Legend, Moonrunner, and Dead. A puddle of mud, a piece of paper, and not paying my taxes proved too much for a seasoned adventurer like me to overcome.  If there were any FIGHTING FANTASY adventures where I could have used a ‘Hand’ to save the Old World from unspeakable evil, these three books would have been them.


Congratulations to Malcolm on a year's worth of Second Swordsman posts. But there are plenty more Fighting Fantasy adventures still to go, so which will he be tackling next month?

Friday, 16 February 2018

The History of Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks at the Forbidden Planet Megastore

On Saturday 24th February, the Forbidden Planet London Megastore will be hosting an event with a difference – welcoming a host of authors and editors from four small press publishers into a mini convention in the store, from 1:00-2:30pm!

Snowbooks, publishers of YOU ARE THE HERO Parts 1 and 2will be among them, as will the books' author Jonathan Green. So, if you're in town that day, why not pop along, buy a book, and get it signed?

     

And talking of Jonathan Green, he was recently interviewed by Jonathan Hicks, a.k.a. the Farsight Blogger, and the interview is now online here.


Friday, 9 February 2018

Blast from the Past! The Shamutanti Hills

The next tranche of Fighting Fantasy releases from Scholastic Books include the first title in Steve Jackson's seminal Sorcery! series. So it seemed timely today to revisit this classic gamebook title - The Shamutanti Hills!

The first book in the Sorcery! series, aimed squarely at adult gamers, was released in late 1983. TheShamutanti Hills which bore the dedication ‘To Ian Livingstone’ and which was illustrated inside and out by fantasy art legend John Blanche - saw the commencement of an epic quest to recover the Crown of Kings from the evil Archmage of Kakhabad. In the adventure, the hero has to make his way through the hills of the title, “alive with evil creatures, lawless wanderers and bloodthirsty monsters, the land is riddled with tricks and traps waiting for the unwary traveller.”

Despite being for adults, the game still used the usual Fighting Fantasy gaming mechanics, the cover proudly stating the mantra familiar to Fighting Fantasy fans that, “Two dice, a pencil and an eraser are all you need for this adventure – YOU decide which paths to take, which dangers to risk and which monsters to fight.” The big difference came from what gave the series its name. As well as being a mighty warrior, the hero of the Sorcery! series could also be played as a powerful magic-user.


The ‘simple’ version of the adventure involved the use of no magic whatsoever, as with most FF adventures up until this point (with the notable exception of The Citadel of Chaos). However, there was also the option whereby the reader could opt for the ‘advanced’ version of the game, which relied heavily on magic, with the hero being able to cast a wide range of spells. Each spell cost between 1 and 4 STAMINA points to cast, and each was denoted by a three letter word (following the pattern consonant-vowel-consonant), and often required very specific ingredients to be cast successfully at all.


There was also the option to call on Libra, the goddess of justice, once during the course of the adventure, either to enable the hero to escape a tricky battle, to be cleansed of curses or diseases, or to have their starting attributes restored to their Initial level.

The easiest of the Sorcery! series to complete – and the shortest, despite having 456 references in total, numerous paragraphs being given over to spell-casting rather than plot development – TheShamutanti Hills concludes with the hero battling the Manticore that has appeared on the cover of every edition of the book ever published.

Will Scholastic Books follow in that tradition? We will just have to wait and see...


The Shamutanti Hills is now available as an app from inkle studios.

You can find out more about the creation of the best-selling Sorcery! series - in both book and app form - in Jonathan Green's YOU ARE THE HERO - A History of Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks and YOU ARE THE HERO Part 2, available now from Snowbooks.

     

Friday, 2 February 2018

Advanced Fighting Fantasy Paper Miniatures

If you're a fan of Arion Games' Advanced Fighter Fantasy Second Edition, then you will be interested to hear that the company has just released a set of their paper miniatures for use in swamp-based adventures.

All manner of creatures from the worlds of Fighting Fantasy - from Lizard Men and Mudclaws, to the Slime Sucker and even the revolting Giant Slug - are included, and can be downloaded here.

This latest set of AFF paper minis joins the six sets already available. To find out more, simply click on the images below.


               

          

If you have yet to discover the flexibility of the Advanced Fighting Fantasy Second Edition RPG, then visit the Arion Games website, or find the books and supplements on RPGNow.