Phantoms of Fear

“Six?!”

Phantoms of Fear by Robin Waterfield

Cover: Ian Miller

Illustrations: Ian Miller

Demonic snot probably means one needs a Blessed Hanky +1, +3 vs. Demons.

Morpheus, Lord of Demonic Snot.

So… I’m a Wood Elf, I’m a shaman, I’m a warrior, I’m the defender of the tribe, I’m going to have to go and fight the demon prince Ishtra, I’m dead meat.

This is sort of novel for a Fighting Fantasy book, since the scenario is usually that you’re human. Okay I suppose you can imagine yourself being a Dwarf or an Elf, but I don’t think there’s anything overtly saying so outside of that one book where you can play a Dwarf. Perhaps it’s more significant that there’s some character background to this one. “Your father was a warrior and your mother a shaman” isn’t much, but it suggests there’s some kind of world there. Pity I’m not as good as either of them at their respective (and clichéd) skills. But since multi-classing is always cool, I suppose I’ll accept this. I’m the Defender-Shaman of the Tribe, or Eldenurin. I think that’s a Wood Elf title that means “defender-shaman of the tribe”. Incidentally, this tribe of Wood Elves lives in something called Affen Forest, on Khul.

Oh and in this book the main character is vegetarian. So for once I don’t have to pretend I’m carrying around a pile of cheese sandwiches. No, in this book I forage for food on my travels, because Wood Elves have an uncanny knack for finding cheese sandwiches in the forest.

Statistics

Skill: 9
Stamina: 17
Luck: 10

Power: 14

Power is 2d6+6 and reflects my magical abilities and my ability to lay the smack down in the dream world. It can exceed the initial value, so that’s good then.

Spells: I get six spells, with names like Levitation, Fire, Illusion, Weaken, Finding, and Protection. Casting them eats a power point.

Equipment: Sword (it’s called Telessa, which adds to the flavour), Backpack, Water Flask, Potion of Stamina, Leather Armour. Wait, I’m a Wood Elf, uh-oh…

Yes, 28 posts in and it's the first barely clothed fantasy woman.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a picture of an elf without a bow?

Okay, so not really in these books (Lizard King aside, it barely happens), but it’s such a cliché it sprang to mind unbidden.

Onward to Adventure!

I wake up from a bad dream. The bad part was that it was a dream where I volunteered to go and fight Ishtra. Demon princes are not exactly easy to take down, and it’s not like I’m a super amazing warrior or anything. I try to go back to sleep but instead have a dream about a the forest, and blunder around the dream world into a stinking mire with a big pit of evil at the centre. In the morning I decide to go and find this blighted area of the forest and defeat Ishtra. Partly because a stinky demonic blight will mess up the forest, but mainly because I want the creepy dreams to stop.

I head north, and take a nap after lunch and dream of a gladiatorial arena, where two people are fighting in some sort of “trial” of “champions”. An evil lord is overseeing this battle, and plans to use the winner against his brother in some nefarious plan. This arena owning evil type sounds like a real bastard, and I hope I never have to meet him. Then my dream turns into a dragon and I wake up with a start, only to find that I’m being attacked by a bloodhawk, which messes me up. But I kill it and head further north. There’s not much food to be gathered, because the forest creatures are hoarding it all in anticipation of being invaded by the forces of darkness. Or possibly adventurer season. I try to find something to eat and have to kill a wolf that has the same idea. Since I was brought up learning how to do magic instead of learning the fine and ancient art of Putting Pointy Things in Squishy Things Using Twangy Things, I have to do this the hard way. But I get a huge pile of food for my trouble, some of which I promptly scoff down because I’m nearly dead, and then I trek onward, through boggy ground and out again into the calm chill of dusk. I decide to climb a tree to sleep, using the catlike grace and elegance that comes naturally to my peop-

Ouch.

A branch broke and I fell out of the tree. I decide to sleep in a hollow log instead, and get to dream about a monster in a blizzard. I kill it using my awesome power of dream combat, and then wake up to find I’ve been sleeping in the hollow log that belongs to a Weevil Man. Weevil Men are mutated and twisted people who attack everyone on sight because they figure they might as well get things over with. I suppose he’s not too fussed about the whole invading chaos thing, since being twisted and mutated by the forces of chaos can’t make his life any worse.

I trek through the day and eventually come to the top of a hill. It’s going to get dark soon so I take up residence in a cave, and have one of those prophetic dreams. This one is about some pools which presumably represent something magical. In the morning I notice a tiny tunnel at the back of the cave. I have an urgent and pressing mission to defeat Ishtra and save Affen Forest, but I can’t resist the lure of a good cave. I crawl through the tunnel, find a chamber with a skeleton and some creepy lichen, and then carry on until I end up on the other side of the hill, looking out over a lush field of green, to the vast patch of blighted forest. Suddenly, a terrible cry echoes around me. I run for cover and end up in a fight for my life with a forest beast that had the same idea. Afterwards, I try to see if I can spot what made that hideous call. Nothing is visible, but while I’m turning about on the spot on the hillside the blighted patch of forest tries to shoot evil magic at me. However the hell that works. I luckily avoid whatever ill fate was in store, and proceed under cover down into the forest. There’s a lovely glade there, and I take the opportunity to wash in a stream, and then take a nap. Some fairy folk turn up and ask me to join their gardening collective, but I turn them down because I suspect being addled out of my mind might not be helpful when the demonic forces of chaos come to burn this allotment to the ground. I awaken and find the grove gone, but a magic tree is still here. I assume this is some kind of magical aid for me, and I snap off a branch from this unique and wondrous example of nature’s wonder. It’s not like I can dig the tree up and carry it with me, so vandalising it is the only option.

As I venture into the blighted area of the forest, I realise the dark and evil forces at work prevent me from casting spell. Oh drat. Average at magic and sword-stabbing, and now I can only do the latter. Such is the price of versatility: There’s always some sod with a magic-dead area. I proceed into the blight, and try to avoid a patch of dead ground. Instead I’m attacked by bloated, sickened roots. I am not a very happy Wood Elf. I decide to avoid the rot, and come across a trail. At the end of the trail is a fence of holly bushes, which surrounds a hut. The hut is dirty and ramshackle, and also presumably the home of the ramshackle and dirty madman who attacks me with an axe. He nearly kills me, which just goes to show that crazed determination is an adequate substitute for calculated efficiency when it comes to hacking at people with weapons.

I search the hut and find a piece of amber with a glow-worm trapped inside, still giving off light after all this time, and then sleep. My dreams are basically a evil tree trying to kill me. It does so, but it’s only in my dreams so I just wake up feeling rather cross. I then set off into the forest, avoiding the obvious trick that is a single deer in a wasteland of evil, and then proceed into an area where the blight is giving way to pure chaos. And also Dark Elves. Dark Elves are bastards, plain and simple. I break away and run, fighting them on the move. Unfortunately my combat skills are not nearly good enough to kill them all before they can catch me.

"Grrr! I am angry because living underground sucks!"

Dark Elves in Fighting Fantasy are not barely covered sexy women, either. They’re also not very angsty. What they are is genocidal.

Wrapup

Yes, no scans of the illustrations for anything I saw in the book were around apart from that last one, which is one of the incidental pictures in the book. It seemed appropriate for the ending.

The atmosphere of the book is great. It’s a journey through the forest, with dreams as guidance each night, and then a slow creep through the blighted area, and finally (just after I died) you get to enter a place where the real and dream worlds overlap, and can flip between them in certain locations.

Woah.

The thing that really got me was, it’s a very engrossing story because the plot – basically, some evil stuff messes up the forest – is conveyed as being alarming and distressing. Normally I’d be annoyed by the book telling me how I feel about things, but in this book it’s not that invasive because playing a Wood Elf with the full gamut of in-tune-with-nature background means the protagonist supposed to be all miserable about the dismal decay and dire destruction.

Dream combat is unfair. Each attack round is a roll of two dice, and a roll of 2-7 means you lose 2 Power points, and 8-12 means the opponent loses 2 Power. So opponents have a higher chance of winning right away. I suppose it’s not meant to be easy. Speaking of the Power score, it also serves as a personal presence meter, which lets you befriend the crazy hermit who is a former adventurer from over the seas, who lost his mind after getting lost in something called The Maze of Zagor. (didn’t we all?), and get an ally for a brief section of the book. My Power score was a little bit too low for that, though.

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: That a bunch of holly bushes can keep out the creeping darkness that is the blight of Ishtra.

Ridiculous Battle: That Dark Elf brawl. Six opponents, one at a time, but if you don’t kill each within four rounds another turns up and gets free hits until your first opponent is dead. At that point I had a Skill of 8 and so I wasn’t going to get far.

Victory: The assurance that the forces of Chaos will tear themselves apart as Chaos is wont to do without a powerful demonic influence maintaining their co-existence, a quick escape, and the knowledge that the forest will soon start to recover from the blight. There’s also an ending for beating Ishtra in the dream world, which I never found.

What Was I Thinking? Taking that nap in the clearing. Cute easter egg be damned, it cost me a point of Skill!

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