Forest of Doom

“What kind of idiot makes a warhammer that can be taken to pieces, anyway?”

The Forest of Doom by Ian Livingstone

Cover: Iain McCaig

Illustrations: Malcolm Barter

This Shapeshifter is out to get the

Words cannot adequately describe how cool this picture is, but I have to try: It is incredibly cool. Damnit, words! You’re just not up to this task!

Now, this is an exciting one for me. That’s because the original cover is the single most awesome picture on the cover of any book, ever (I reserve the right to revise which coveri s the most awesome cover ever at any time). That spiny bastard beckoning the reader to take him on, looking like trouble squared, just makes me want to know why on earth I’d end up in that situation to start with. After all, as an adventure-inclined protagonist naturally I want to run headlong into danger, and with that creature presumably a typical representative of the population of the region, I know I’m heading into a forest that is full up to the canopy with doom. Naturally the re-release has a cover that is nowhere near as great (but they filed off the “the” in the title, which is a bit of an improvement). This is an ongoing trend with the new books: The covers are often nowhere near as dangerous looking, or mysterious, or exciting. Though admittedly some did get improvements, when you have a back catalogue with a cover like this you should probably consider using it. That artwork sold the book and in fact the entire series to me as a child without having to look at the back cover. To be honest, this cover is what sold the book to me now, so naturally I’m starting here.

Statistics

Skill: 12 (Yes!)
Stamina: 20 (Great!)
Luck: 8 (I’m going to die!)

Equipment: Sword, Leather Armour, Backpack, Potion of Fortune (I think I might need that one with a luck of 8), and the standard ten units of Provisions.

Onward to Adventure!

I’m a wandering adventurer, a practitioner of the noble and ancient craft of wandering around and getting into violent trouble. I also eat rabbit. You might be wondering how I catch them armed with only a sword. Well, it’s obvious. I wander around until a…

RABBIT
SKILL: 2
STAMINA: 1

Turns up and attacks me for no reason.

Roaming about the countryside murdering every wandering band of orcs or goblins or whatever the hell comes along is so much fun that I don’t mind the isolation and lack of proper laundry facilities. One fine evening, I’m sleeping off a hard day’s monster killing (a rabbit is a monster), dreaming of more monster killing, only to be woken by a dying dwarf, riddled with crossbow bolts. It turns out that he’s on a quest to recover the warhammer of Stonebridge for their king so he can rally the other dwarves against the trolls. Fairly normal stuff, then. He asks me to finish this mission of dwarven inter-village politics, and dies. I promptly loot the corpse and contemplate that I might get some more gold for wandering through a forest looking for a hammer, I think this sounds like a walk in the park. In the morning I follow the directions I was given and head off to Yaztromo’s tower. Yaztromo is a wizard who moved out here for isolation and solitude, and thus naturally runs a magical item store. I think he has not got this hermiting business quite right. He should take a lesson from his colleagues in benevolent wizardry and live inside Darkwood Forest instead of just outside the trees. Nothing keeps pestering adventurers away like living in one of the deadliest places you can find. You’d think the good wizards would all go and live in the Deathtrap Dungeon. Yaztromo is also not very bright: His items are single-use, which is great for repeat business, but repeat business is not so brilliant for hermitry. Since I’m an adventurer in a world where it always pays to carry around everything you find just in case, I buy over half his stock. Gosh, what possible use could things like holy water or garlic buds have? Gloves of missile dexterity sound handy. So does this thing labelled “headband of concentration”. I’m damned if I’m falling for “rod of water-finding” though. It’s probably just a forked stick, and I’m not even going near a desert anyway.

As I arrange the gewgaws in my backpack I laugh and mention how easy it’s going to be to find a used hammer in a forest. Yaztromo conveniently knows that the hammer was swiped by an eagle, which dropped the hammer into the forest after being intercepted by some ominously named birds called deathhawks, and that two goblins found the hammer, and they unscrewed the head from the handle and each took half of the hammer. “Oh god, no,” I think to myself, “not a scavenger hunt.”

Off to the forest! It’s very dark and gloomy. I head west at the first inevitable crossroads, and help someone trapped in a snare, and he robs me of two of my hard-won magical items. What a bastard. On the upside, I come across a goblin who appears to have a suspiciously hammer handle-like rod. Is this one of the hammer components I’m after? Hah, no. It’s a shape changer. These spiny fiends apparently like to trick people and then fight them. I wind up half dead, and have to eat a cheese sandwich. As I wander onwards, I learn that not only is this forest full of thieving bastards and spiky monsters, the vegetation is going to make a good attempt at killing me as well. I can accept that a sentient tree might be one of the perils of this forest, but when the grass starts trying to suck my blood I begin to think the best way to do this quest would be to go and find a wizard, convince him to burn the forest down, and then sift through the ashes. I am certainly not going on any more forest related adventures in the future without buying an axe and a scythe first.

After my encounter with the wonders of nature I cross the local river and make camp. The next day I wander around and find a cave. Caves are second only to dungeons in their ability to attract adventurers, so I have look inside. It’s home to a cave troll, asleep in a chair. It occurs to me that stealing his things might be easier than killing him and then stealing them, so I give it a go. I’m lucky, and come out of this with a brass bell and some gold. If this seems pathologically criminal, remember that the primary industry of Allansia is killing people and stealing their stuff. I am an entrepreneur.

She reappears on this same tree every two days.

She was surprisingly angry at my crashing past and waking her from her nap.

I’m also a maniac with a desire to clamber down an old well I just found. There appears to be a tiny tunnel down there, so of course I’m going to have a look. Except I took the fast route, thanks to falling off the ladder and smacking my head on the side of the well. This is what adventurers do, folks: Fall off ladders and into water. I decide my tunnel rat side quest is over, since I want to get into the sun and get dry. I glare at the well and squelch off. As I amble along letting the sun do its work, I come across a small man sitting, asleep, on a huge mushroom. He is wearing a bright red jacket and cap. Is he a gnome, one of the jolly folk who enjoy playing pranks and japes on travellers in the woods; or a redcap, that violent race of bloodthirsty murdering midgets who kill on sight just to re-dye their hats? I could wake him up and find out, but that’s not a good idea. If he’s a gnome I’ll have to endure several practical jokes and then when I leave a bucket of custard balanced on a tree branch will upend itself over my head. I’m not enthusiastic about japery after that little trip down the well, so I decide to leave well enough alone. Gnomes are always trouble.

Further through the forest I come across a dwarf, who is sitting on a log. I ask if he is from Stonebridge. He is not, and completely loses the plot, ranting about how he hates those Stonebridge dwarves and wants to find their wondrous hammer to take back to his home town of Mirewater. Apparently it was his eagle that was stealing the hammer. I may not have any hammer parts, but I have the consolation prize: The villain responsible. I’m a heroic adventurer on the side of good – I assume, I actually have no idea – so I do what comes naturally: I draw my blade and challenge him to a duel. I make short work of my opponent, drink his vial of dwarven healing potion, and head onward.

As I travel further I run into a group of bandits led by a woman. Now here, I think to myself, is a woman who I have much in common with. She takes people’s things and maybe kills them, I kill people and take their things. We are both making our own ways in the world, obviously not willing to conform to the so-called normal society we were born into. Perhaps she could send her band of thieves away and we can sit down, have a chat, get to know each other, build a fire and drink this bottle of fine vintage I happen to have, and then … hah, no, of course not. My options are to hand over the goods, or fight.

Bandits dispatched, I find my way out of the forest. I have none of the items on the scavenger hunt list, so I am forced to trudge around the forest to start my search all over again. Not for this woman, the simple turning about on the spot and walking back into the forest! No! I shall wander southeast along this convenient path, crossing the convenient bridge, and walking alongside these inconvenient hills swarming with inconvenient wild hill men, who try to murder me with inconvenient arrows. Despite making a larger target than a dwarf, I escape with my life.

Now some mysterious magic happens and everything is as it was before. I saunter up to the tower, and find that Yaztromo has forgotten who I am. He has all the same things for sale – I suppose he made some more – but is happy to tell me the same story as before. It is as though I have travelled back in time! Having bought one of everything, I return to the forest, this time heading east. I come across a signpost with a crow perched on it. It says hello, and in hearing my insane quest directs me north for the reasonable sum of a gold piece. Apparently Yaztromo turns people into birds and only changes them back when they collect enough money. Clearly he’s got some kind of wizard extortion thing going on and lives out here away from civilization to avoid difficult questions from interfering authorities.

Following the advice of a shapeshifted crow is a silly idea, but it’s better than no advice at all, and so I head north. Eventually I come across another cave. The unstoppable force of the cave draws me into the shadowy opening. I peer inside and decide to take a shot at the ogre who lives there with a handy rock. Because that’s what people do under the influence of a cave. The ogre goes down, and my attention turns to a caged goblin, who ungratefully attacks me with a stool when I unlock the cage. Now, I could go into detail about the relative merits of using a stool as an offensive weapon. It has a bit of weight, can knock someone out, and can serve as a crude shield. Or I could just point out that a sword is longer, and I already have a significant reach advantage over a four foot tall green pile of warts. Score: Humans 1, Goblins 0. Oh hey, he’s wearing the hammer handle as a pendant!

My luck clearly on the upswing, I saunter off into the forest, whistling a jaunty tune, a spring in my step, and promptly end up suspended upside down from one of those comical rope traps, with my sword lying on the ground. This is why you’re supposed to carry spare weapons. Eventually an annoying brat dressed all in green comes wandering by, and offers to let me down for some gold. “Okay, fine, whatever,” I say, fishing some coins out and throwing them down. “Ease me down slowl-” I stop in mid sentence, and stare at the hilt of my sword right in front of my eyes. I sigh, take it, and chop through the rope, crashing to the ground. I arise from the leaves like a wrathful demoness, only to find the forest brat long gone. Typical. Kids these days.

I wander west, picking leaves out of my hair and wondering how a small child survives a forest that eats adventurers alive, and then come out into a wide grassy plain that for some reason is in the middle of the forest. I bet someone else came through here, got angry with the killer vegetation, and burned a good chunk of the forest out. Good riddance. Of course, it’s more easy to notice the vast number of people paying a visit to the forest in an open space. It’s not really the Forest of Doom, more the Forest of Doom if You Are Not Careful. As a passing hunter informs me, this is the best place to find game in the northern wilderness, so why would there not be hordes of people trooping through here? The Allansian Conservation Department should be notified. Except they’re probably too busy trying to protect endangered species like the Greater Dungeon Dwelling Evil Wizard or the Common Mushroom Sitting Gnome.

Further along the meandering path through the Grassland of Doom, I come across someone staked out for the vultures. Having moved on from the days when I was a cheery, optimistic hero to being the cynical, world-weary archetype, I ignore him and wander off. It grows dark, and hopefully this won’t be another night of giant spiders. Thankfully that is not to be. Instead I get vampire bats, who apparently hate garlic as much as I love it. The next morning I head up some hills and get shot at by some dirty hippies, who get skewered for their trouble. I briefly wonder if they were just hermits annoyed by my presence. There seems to be a lot of isolated cottages for a forest that is apparently full of doom. Perhaps it’s just a nice quiet place for people looking for solitude, and they just spread around bad rumours to keep the place from becoming gentrified. Of course the downside is attracting people like me. A creeping suspicion comes over me. What if I’m the doom in the forest? What if this is all some convoluted moral tale I am trapped in? My very life could be a lie!

A Wyvern is a big lizard that breathes fire, not to be mistaken for that other big lizard that breathes fire.

The Wyvern is sort of a cheaper version of a Dragon, but they don’t skimp on the fire!

Back under the shady canopy and roaming the wooded byways of the most crowded and tourist-filled deadly forest in the land, I pass by a familiar well. I warily walk past, looking straight ahead, like I’m a swordswoman with places to go and people to kill, hoping I don’t catch its attention, and continue. I pass by by a friendly friar, whose very presence in Darkwood Forest goes one step further towards confirming my suspicion that I may actually be slaughtering the visitors to a national park. Then I find a mausoleum.

The only things that exceed caves in sheer adventurer attracting power are crypts and dungeons, and what is a mausoleum but a small crypt? I barge on in, intent on plundering the riches of the dead. Or at the least getting me a skull to use as a puppet. I am in luck! There’s a goblin skeleton sitting in the corner, picked clean. I grab the skull for a souvenir and turn to the sarcophagus. The lid is far too heavy for me to move, so I look through my backpack for something to move it. Potion of insect control… net of entanglement… fire capsules… rod of water finding… Nothing.

Well, that’s okay, I can always go around the forest and search around some more. I leave the crypt and eventually come across… some bandits, led by a woman. I decide to pay the toll of five random objects, handing over some junk I found in the forest, as well as that rod of water finding. I then leave the forest and come to Stonebridge. Since I don’t have the hammer head, I naturally walk off with the handle and try to circle the forest again. The very same walk southeast along the convenient path, across the convenient bridge, and then once more past the inconvenient hills swarming with inconvenient wild hill men. They have another try at shooting me, only this time I am seriously unlucky and die, riddled with inconvenient arrows.

Wrapup

Well, it’s a good enough book, but really the forest is an illusion: It’s just a dungeon crawl. The ability to start again is nice, but it means the entire forest is reset. You can ignore some of the crossover stuff a second time through the forest, but the bandits were unavoidable and ruined the illusion. What got me was the fact that it’s nowhere near as hard as it could be. I only died to an abysmally low luck score, and there are only four necessary items to find in the whole book, two of which are goals. On the upside, there’s quite a bit of variety in this one. The outdoor setting means a more natural feel – I wasn’t left with the notion that there was some seriously bizarre reason why all the monsters didn’t kill each other. It also feels spread out, rather than being packed into a relatively small tunnel network. There’s also plenty of NPCs who you can interact with, in that limited gamebook way – but it would have been nice if friendly greetings didn’t have an option to attack the person in question. Overall, far easier than I expected.

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: When the bandits were resurrected. I don’t think there’s any way to avoid this in a gamebook, though.

Victory: You get a golden helmet that’s worth a fortune, and a box of gems. Except this kind of conflicts with the whole wandering loner background, since what use are riches to someone who hates being anywhere you can spend them?

What Was I Thinking? Help someone? In this forest? Hahahaha, no. Just don’t.

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5 Responses to Forest of Doom

  1. Pingback: Temple of Terror « Seven Fourteen Seven

  2. Gavin Mitchell says:

    Hello, I’ve been greatly enjoying your witty and entertaining walkthroughs of Fighting Fantasy books. I was wondering if you also read amateur adventures?

    • Hi there! I’m glad you like the playthroughs. The only amateur adventure I’ve read so far was the one where the player is the manager of the Black Lobster inn. I thought it was quite funny, in spite of the assumption that I was male. I’ll probably check some more amateur adventures out when I run out of official books to read.

      • Gavin Mitchell says:

        Hello, thanks for your response. I’m not familiar with the Black Lobster one, but if you’re interested I wrote Outsider which can be found at http://WWW.ffproject.com. You do play a male but he’s kind of a pre-existing character a la Black Vein Prophecy. So if you ever do feel like reading something like that… cheers :)

  3. Rob Lee says:

    Nice!!! This is actually one of the *easier* FF books out there; most enemies have Skills below 10, and if you fail, you get to restart and retry your quest.

    Has it occurred to anyone that your adventurer in this book appears to be some sort of borderline psychopath??? I think it’s a case of Early-Installment Weirdness (being Book 3 and all) but in *almost* every encounter with random strangers you get to attack anyone you met for no good reason at all. One of the first choices the book gives you is whether you want to attack an old man or not … :P

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