“I should have expected an octopus.”

Bloodbones by Jonathan Green

Bloodbones is the long-lost unpublished 60th book from the original series. It’s a pirate story. The basic premise is that there’s some pirate, who you want to kill, but he’s dead, but he got better, sort of, and that means it’s time to kill him again. Sort of.

The original plan for this, back in the 90’s, was to make it 300 paragraphs long, instead of the usual 400. Puffin thought that this would help reconnect with a younger audience, because the later books were too complicated. I think this would have killed the series stone dead if they hadn’t already decided to cancel it, since nothing insults kids like saying “oh hey here’s the new one, only 75% as long, and it’s easier because you’re all hopeless and can’t handle grownup books” when all they really needed to do was cut down a bit on the brutal combats, shopping lists of required items, and epic puzzling. From my reading around the internet it seems that what people really like is a gamebook with good writing and more flexibility in how the player gets through it.

Because the book was written in the 90’s and then hauled out again in the 2000’s after a certain undead pirate film had been released, it looks suspiciously like a cynical cash-in. I wonder if it’s more a cynical cash-in on long-term Fighting Fantasy fans desire to read the long-rumoured book, and get them on board with the other republished books by the same author. I don’t really mind, since more books in print is good. Oddly enough, this book was originally inspired by the novel On Stranger Tides, which the Pirates of the Carribean franchise used later. So I think it all averages out.


Skill: 11 (Woo!)
Stamina: 24 (On a roll!)
Luck: 8 (Typical)

Time: 0 (periodically increases, if it’s too high when you reach the pirate hideout, game over)

Gold: 20 (a generous 2d6+12)

Equipment: Sword, lantern, tinderbox, backpack. Nothing else.

Onward to Adventure!

For those who came in late…

Ten years ago, the evil pirate Cinnabar sailed up and razed my village to the ground and murdered my family. Well, most of my family. Apparently evil pirates don’t kill women, and so my mother died of some unspecified illness later. Well, women kill evil pirates, so I’ve spent ten years sailing the seas, gathering information and planning my revenge. What I know is that he’s also known as Bloodbones, and he worships some voodoo god. Boring. Eventually I find out he has a secret base near the Port of Crabs, a popular pirate hangout and thus probably not named for the local seafood. This is quite embarrassing, since I’m from a tiny fishing village up the coast from there. Ooops. Years of travelling all over Titan on merchant ships when a quick trip to the nearest city would have done the job.

I arrive in the Port of Crabs and head for the seediest tavern I can find, and small talk with the bartender until I can casually mention I’ve heard that the Virago has been sailing the local waters.

“Nope, Cinnabar’s been dead about, oh, six months now,” says the landlord.

“Assuredly the rest of his crew are still sailing around causing trouble, right?”

“Oh no, the first mate set sail in a terrible bad storm. She, the crew, and the ship haven’t been seen since.”

I wander towards the door, wondering what to do with my life now that my entire life goal was taken care of by some bad weather. Some drunk, however, insists that Cinnabar is coming back from the dead. Great! I can have a go at killing him after all! He says to meet him outside in ten minutes and he’ll tell me more. When I do, of course there’s some people trying to kill him. I see off the attackers, but naturally the drunk is dying. Apparently the Pirates of the Black Skull – they all have a tattoo of a black skull on the back of their hands as part of the voodoo cult they’re all in – are trying to bring back Cinnabar. I presume that means getting him back to the city, since he’s apparently undead and thus doesn’t need to come back in a metaphorical sense.

I figure I should look for information in the gambling pits, because firstly, that’s where scurvy pirates hang out, and secondly I’m going to need to buy lots of ridiculous trinkets to ever defeat the evil voodoo pirate cult. At the gambling pits a wizard has a vast, clanking machine that creates number puzzles. He is shouting out, “Solve the puzzle, win some gold!” I do so and then ask him why he doesn’t, you know, use his amazing mechanical expertise to make money in a less seedy place. He stares at me for a moment in surprise, and then hurriedly closes up his stall. On my way out I overhear someone talking about the Virago, which is apparently heading for a place called Bone Island, and someone else hands me a letter with a secret meeting in an inn. That doesn’t sound like a trap at all, no.

Off to market, because a well-equipped adventurer as an alive adventurer. I pick up rope, throwing knives, a cutlass (because I want a damn cutlass), and the sight of an all-purpose poison antidote compels me to buy it, because I have a feeling it might just come in handy. I can’t imagine where that thought came from. I also pick up a couple of trinkets from the bazaar, including a totally badass bracelet of shark’s teeth, and then find a mapmaker. It turns out Bone Island is far to the East, and is also full of cannibals. I wonder why it is not called Cliché Island.

I decide it is time to search for the wicked and evil band of voodoo pirates, and figure that the lighthouse might be the best place to start, since it’s ruined and also has a spectacular view. Of course, it’s night by now, so I am wandering through darkness. As I go up the path I see a light on the beach. I wonder what is going on… and realise it’s a group of wreckers. I charge down and kill them, and grab their skeleton key. It happens to be able to open the lighthouse, and inside I find a partly burnt letter with a secret password on it, a candle, some food, and two dice. I feel there is something ironic going on here as I pocket the dice and leave to return to the city, but I have no idea what it is.

I decide that pirates probably hang out at the docks, and go there. As I wander around in the mist I am completely clobbered by an anchor. The pirates have sent their crack assassin after me – an assassin who beats people to death with an anchor on a chain. Subtle. I duel this stealthy and precise killer until he gets tangled in the chain and then I kick the anchor off the docks and then decide to check out the cemetery. Silly me, I should have gone there first. Where else would an undead villain hide? At first all I find is some shady characters hauling a chest somewhere. I follow them into a tomb and am asked for a password by a rather over dramatic ghost. Thankfully I have one on that scrap of burned paper, and I get on with looting the deserted living quarters, and then try another area of the complex, only to run into a giant mutant cat with a humourous number of tails. I kill it, and proceed through the door.

Inside, I find a temple to the evil god Quezkari, and a bunch of pirates being addressed by a rotting figure in fancy sea captain garb. Apparently they will sail to Bone Island, fully resurrect Cinnabar, and then come back and get revenge on the Port of Crabs. I’m not sure what they will be getting revenge for, but maybe it’s just revenge in general. It’s a good thing there’s no international standards for revenge. Maybe there are in Gallantaria?

All the pirates are staring at me.

“Did I say that last bit out loud?” I ask the nearest cut-throat.

“Yes,” he replies.

I’m grabbed and dumped in a pit which has a tiny opening for the rising tide to get in. The pirates leave, and I saw through the ropes using that bracelet of teeth I bought earlier. Thankfully they left my stuff to one side, without stealing any of it. Not very good pirates, are they? I run through the caves and find an underground bay, with a pirate ship inside. As it starts to set sail I run for the jetty and dive through the convenient open porthole. The first door I see as I explore says “Captain” so I figure I might as well start there. The cabin is quite opulent and not full of corpse slime, which means the rotting pirate hasn’t been in here yet. The ornate globe turns out to be hollow, so I swipe the gold inside. I’m sure that won’t look suspicious. I also smash open a ship in a bottle, and find a map inside. I’m sure this won’t be noticed. I then head downstairs, and kill the cook. I’m sure that will be overlooked by the crew. I then open a door and find myself on the deck, and am captured. Again. I’m dragged before Cinnabar (again) who decides to have me killed (again), this time by turning me over to someone called Doctor Malefact, who doesn’t look like he’s got my good health in mind. I kill the evil torturer and two of his cronies, and run to the deck again, and climb the rigging. I then swing on a handy rope and fall into the sea. Haha! Escape!

Unfortunately it’s out of the pirate ship, into the shark infested waters. I think the rapidly approaching shark is mad about my taste in jewellery. I kill it anyway, but don’t have time to grab any extra teeth to make a matching set of earrings. Instead I’m fortunate enough to be picked out of the water by a passing ship. It happens to be the ship captained by the famous Conyn the bounty hunter, who killed Cinnabar. He seems quite smug about that.

“Well it didn’t stick, you bloody prat! Now, you’re going to get me to where they’re going and I’ll finish what you started!”

I give him the coordinates to Bone Island and then snap that we will take the short route through the Crab Reefs, which apparently are named for enormous monster seafood. This sounds like it could be dangerous, but I feel lucky, and anyway, how bad can they be? Unfortunately, my luck does not hold: The ship is attacked by enormous crustaceans, and they hole the ship. As it slowly sinks while I fight off the hideous terrors of the deep clambering over the side, pincers waving in the air, I’m not amused by the fact that I’m about to die to a fatal case of crabs.


I was expecting a slightly more ironic death by shark.

On the setting front, the pirates have some seriously piratey names and piratey gimmicks. But I think there’s some confusion between voodoo and Aztec influenced evil bloodthirsty human sacrifice religion. Whatever. It’s not supposed to make sense, right? There’s also the full gamut of clichés, from sea monsters to ghost ships, to the marooned sailor who knows where the treasure (of course there’s treasure) is. Oh, and the stereotypical tribe who lives there – at least they’re not actually cannibals.

Aside from that it’s a fairly generic book with a myriad of things to find – code words, numbers, keys, passwords, items, and rum. There’s some nice tricks in the structure of the book, like the paragraph where you refer to a map is positioned just above the one where you get the map, so the picture on the facing page is handy both times. Not to mention the recurring enemies that come back for more. Of course, nothing is perfect: At one point I turned to 230 and then it directed me to 231. That was a bit too, ah, traditional narrative structure for my liking.

Unfortunately it’s way to hard to get through it without knowing what to do, and also having a huge Luck score. The Time statistic can mean you find the right path only too late, and then there’s a series of unavoidable encounters that are certain death if you have low scores. It’s not a bad book, certainly not as cruel as Spellbreaker, but still too hard for a casual playthrough to be enjoyable.

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: I can’t, absolutely can’t, take seriously a villain called Anchor Man.

Ridiculous Battle: Cinnabar has a Skill of 12, but also has a parrot sidekick to harass the player, penalising their attacks, so he’s really got a Skill of 13. Oh and the parrot inflicts damage for free one round out of three, so it’s not very fair. Then, Quezkari pops up and has an actual Skill of 13. Come on, not even a break?

Victory: A free trip home via Ghost Ship Cruises. Though you can pillage some wealth from the various locations in the book, scoring a massive pile of gold is not possible since it turns you to gold if you try to take it. Which means this pirate book fails on one very important front.

What Was I Thinking? Letting the sense of urgency get to me and opting for the short route through the Reefs of Certain Combat was a bit silly.

2 Responses to Bloodbones

  1. sloppynez says:

    Did you crack the puzzle with the carving that had the letters all around the outside? I couldn’t figure it out. Can’t have given anything critical though as I won without it. Also, any idea why it was ‘special edition’? Didnt seem special to me.

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