Deathtrap Dungeon

“Oh god. I have no idea what to do next. I’m going to die.”

Deathtrap Dungeon by Ian Livingstone

Covers: Iain McCaig, Mel Grant

Illustrations: Iain McCaig

I realigned the cover since the scan was wonky.

Mel Grant’s cover is pretty good, really.

So, the plot of this book? There’s this town, and the local lord built a huge, trap-filled, monster infested, puzzle-riddled dungeon that no-one has ever come out of alive. Every year adventurers, being idiots, turn up and try to make it through for the prize of 10,000 gold pieces. The whole town throws a party to laugh at the morons. YOU are one of those idiots. YOU are dead meat.

It’s the most well known and possibly the most successful Fighting Fantasy book. There are two sequels. There was a computer game based on it, which was not very good and was probably one of the earliest sexist marketing campaigns in computer game history. A lot of the names in the book are stolen from Thailand. Author cameo. Etcetera. Almost everyone knows all this, and it’s not hard to find out if you read some of the other playthrough blogs. Actually, this book results in some of the funnier entries in the playthrough genre since it’s so colossally unfair but never pretended to be anything else. It’s actually fun because it totally lives up to expectations, and thus no-one can complain.

It’s one of the most mangled of the FF books in the public library so I suppose the kids still love the idea of being slaughtered in Baron Sukumvit’s evil labyrinth. So it’s time for me to roll some dice and take on the ultimate dungeon crawl…


Skill: 12
Stamina: 18
Luck: 12

I might actually stand a chance!

Equipment: Sword, shield (bonus item!), leather armour, backpack, 10 provisions, potion of fortune, and a death wish.

Onward to Adventure!

So I’m chilling out in the wilderness, wandering around, and then I find a note nailed to a tree. It says that there’s a big dungeon and I can win a lot of gold if I survive it. This explains that nagging feeling I’ve been getting that I should be travelling north. Deathtrap Dungeon, being the most enormous and dangerous underground complex on the continent, exerts an adventurer attracting force that exceeds five hundred mega-dungeons. Even then, the reputation of this one is usually enough to make most adventurers successfully overcome the dungeon crawling urge. But I’ve got some moves. So I set off, heading to Port Blacksand, travelling north by ship, and then rafting up the river to the town of Fang. It’s not the 10,000 gold pieces, or the freedom of Chiang Mai province forever, but the fact that no-one has ever won the Trial of Champions that makes this venture so attractive to me.

I arrive in Fang three days before the dungeon is opened to adventurers. I register my entry in the competition and am given a violet scarf to signify that I’m a heroic adventurer prepared to risk it all for fame and wealth. Or possibly to show that I’m a dangerously suicidal lunatic. Either way, I get to drunkenly party like it’s the end times for a few days, and then I wake up with a hangover and the nagging feeling that I did something stupid. Someone promptly knocks on my door and reminds me what that stupid thing was.

I’m led down to the entrance to Deathtrap Dungeon, where I see the other contestants. There’s a knight in full plate mail, a couple of barbarians, an elven woman with more daggers than anyone could possibly need, and someone who is probably an assassin. I smile warmly at the elven woman. She smiles back, and then draws her finger across her throat and points at me. So we’re probably not teaming up in the dungeon, then.

Only an adventurer would be so stupid as to volunteer for this. So here I am.

Yeah. That’s not foreboding AT ALL.

We draw straws to see who goes in first. I’m going to be the fifth contestant to wander in to certain doom. Everyone is cheering. It’s probably too late to back out now, but the dungeon is compelling me to enter. I couldn’t walk away if I tried. I step inside the dank, rat and spider filled corridor. The dim light provided by glowing crystals in the roof is barely enough to see by. The first thing I find is a table with a box for each contestant. Inside are two gold coins and a note telling me that I’ll need to find special items to make it through alive. Just like every other dungeon, then. Ahead there’s the first of the inevitable T-junctions. There’s an arrow on the wall pointing west, and three sets of wet footprints heading that way. Someone went east. I decide that if three people went west, three people will have tripped traps and killed monsters. West it is.

I pass up the option to turn north, and walk around an iron bell which is probably a trap. Then the tunnel turns north again and I find a couple of hobgoblins fighting over a leather bag. I skewer one before they notice me, and kill the other. It turns out they were fighting over an earthenware jug of acid. I suppose that might be useful. Further on I find some suspicious looking wooden poles that stretch across the tunnel. It seems too obvious that they’re for crossing without touching the floor, so instead I step over each carefully and carry on. I continue following the footprints, considering they’re my best chance of not getting killed. Eventually I come into a room with a large idol. It’s six metres high, flanked by some stuffed flamingoes, and has huge emeralds for eyes. It’s probably going to be bad luck to take them, right? Well who cares, I want one.

Flamingoes of death!

This is obviously going to go well.

I clamber up and go to pry one out, but suddenly the birds come to life and attack me. Dammit. I kill them, and then grab the left eye of the idol. I decide against trying my luck with the other, and get out of there. Further up the hallway I find a door. Inside a voice demands I pay respect to Sukumvit. I call him names instead, figuring this the obvious answer is not likely to pay off here. I get a gold ring for my trouble.

After a shaft of light gives me a hint about diving into water when I walk through it, I find another door. Inside is a slimy room, and a pit of worms. There’s a nice looking dagger in there. The worms might be poisonous or acidic or bitey or vampiric. But that dagger has shiny stones set in the hilt, so I decide to give a go at reaching into the writhing, slimy morass and pulling out the blade. It’s pretty good. Stylish, gaudy, and of course pointy. I head for the door, feeling good about overcoming this challenge. Then a giant fly attacks me.

I kill the fly and continue down the corridor, wondering where the hell Sukumvit even got that thing. Eventually I come to a pit. There’s a rope dangling over it. I decide to jump over instead, because I’ve learned some tricks from this dungeon. I just make it, and continue onwards. I find another door in the wall. Okay, I know I have to find some stuff to make it out of here, so I don’t exactly have a choice about opening the door. But I don’t really want to. This is Deathtrap Dungeon, not Harmless Door Dungeon. I sigh and open the door.

Inside there are a lot of statues of knights and warriors – and I recognise one as a fellow contestant, so I know what’s going on here –
and a crazy old man. He must be crazy to live in here. I am given a choice of answering a question or being turned to stone. I figure, if I don’t try to answer it I’m getting turned to stone anyway. I get the question right and allowed to leave. Further on I find another door. This one has an X carved roughly into it. Damn. That can’t be good. Inside is a skeleton in a chair, holding some parchment.

Obvious trap is obvious.

“Hey there, would you like to read this parchment?” – Kids! Never accept parchment from skeletons!

I suspect that the skeleton will attack me if I grab the parchment. I may need to read the parchment, or it might be cursed. If the parchment contains vital information I’ll die later if I don’t read it. Or the parchment might be useless but ignoring it makes the skeleton attack me. It’s a whole network of hideously unfair choices. Whatever I do things will end up bad, but at least I know how to redeaden a skeleton. I grab the parchment and it stands up to attack me. After I smash it to bits I find the parchment recommends using a shield against a manticore. Well, at least I was right about that being useful. Well, useful to adventurers who didn’t bring a shield with them.

There’s a staircase leading down in the corner, so I head that way. I pass by some mushrooms, which are probably poisonous or carnivorous, and find some stairs up to a trap door. I leap through and kill a couple of goblins, making off with their collection of iron spikes. I then head off through the north door. Along the hallway I find a door with a hand nailed to it. That’s awfully charming. I go inside and find someone chained up. He’s apparently a failed contestant who was given a choice between life as a servant to the Trialmasters, or death as a corpse. He chose the former, but tried to escape and was captured, de-handed, and chained to the wall in this cell for a year. I set him fee and he tells me that all he knows is that I have to gather gems to win the Trial of Champions.

That was not very useful, so I leave the prisoner behind – presumably he can escape by backtracking, though he will probably die either way – and continue onwards, only to find a pipe in the wall. I shrug and crawl into it, finding a box. I extract myself and find a sapphire and an iron key inside the container. Further on I find two dead orcs. I steal a necklace of teeth that turns out to be an amulet of strength, and carry on. I find one of the barbarians. He says I can team up with him. I’m not complaining, since this dungeon can only get more difficult. But of course only one person can win this contest, so I’ll just have to stab Throm in the back later.

A generic barbarian, spiced up by having an eye patch.

I think there’s an 80’s metal cover that looks like this.

Further on we climb down a pit and find two books on a shelf on the wall. I open one and find a phial of liquid. I drink it, because that’s what adventurers do. It’s a trap-detecting potion, which is probably the most useful thing I could find in this dungeon. The other book falls apart as I open it, but I manage to read about a thing called a bloodbeast What are the odds this is a random find?

Further on a couple of cave trolls show up. Not a problem. The real problem is further down the hallway, where behind a door sits a dwarf. He’s a Trialmaster, and says this whole teaming up deal is against the rules. So I’m set some tests: Playing dice (easy), catching a cobra (easy), fighting a minotaur (easyish), and then fighting Throm (pretty easy too). No problem. Onward, and all that. I can hear a loud buzzing from the western fork in the tunnel, and since I’ve dealt with one giant insect today without too much trouble I think I can handle a second. Except there’s hundreds. All rather large, but fortunately behind a glass panel. Unfortunately there’s a crown in there, with a diamond set in it. I sigh, smash the glass, and grab a torch from the wall and try to fend off the insects. Thankfully I’m only severely bitten, not lethally. The insects stay behind because the torch-lit room is preferable to them, so I can sit down to eat cheese sandwiches while examining the crown… which is not gold, and the diamond is just glass… shit.

I trek onward, dejectedly rubbing my insect bites – at least, the ones I can reach – until I hear someone approaching. It turns out to be one of the servants of the trialmasters. I trade him one of my gold pieces for some information. I have no idea what someone spends money on in this dungeon, but apparently a secret compartment in a grotesque chair is worth knowing about. Eventually I find the chair and snaffle the potion hidden inside. It’s a Doppleganger Potion, which will let me pretend to be a different creature. That might be handy, I suppose.

Further on I find the tunnel sloping downwards into water. I swim through, soaking two of my sandwiches, and then carry on until I hear cries from a nearby cavern. I go to look and find the elven woman who was so very unfriendly to me at the entrance to the dungeon. She’s being crushed by a boa constrictor. I figure I should take the high road here, and lop the snake’s head off. Unfortunately I’m too late, and she dies. So I loot her corpse, taking two daggers, a mirror, and a charm. I also swipe her bread, which I munch as I carry on through the dungeon.

A grille in the floor looks suspiciously like it’s meant to be explored, so I open it up and reach in for the grappling hook I see inside. For my trouble I’m grabbed by a tentacle. It crushes my arm terribly before I can chop it away, but I had the presence of mind to not stick my sword arm in there so I’m not impaired too much. For my trouble, I get a brass bell and a grappling hook. Further on I find a room that contains a chest and some footprints in dust. The trap detection potion warns me the chest is trouble, so I avoid the trap inside, and find a pendant missing the stone that should be set in it. One of the contestants is still alive! I leave the room counting off the dead ones I’ve met. Who is left, the other barbarian, or the assassin?

Eventually I come to a huge cavern. It’s dominated by a golden idol, surrounded by a bunch of dancing midgets with huge noses. They’re troglodytes, and I need to get past them. I decide to try that potion I found. It works really well… just not for very long. The evil midgets spot me and I am forced to run. Over a bridge and up to a door, which I happen to have the key for. On the other side is an intersection, and to the north is someone calling out to me. It’s a man with a basket elevator.

“This is a trap, right?” I ask.

“No, no trap.” he says with a smile. Of course he might be lying. What choice do I have? I give him something I’ve been trekking through the dungeon with and get hauled up to the higher level. By a troll. She’s called Ivy and wants something too. I distract her by asking about a painting on the wall and then knock her out cold with a stool. A quick search of the room turns up a bone, which I decide to take. This turns out to be useful because there’s a couple of angry dogs just outside the room. Further on I find a large wall blocking the tunnel. There’s a door, of course, but there’s also a large and noisy monster on the other side. Now, I’ve got a grappling iron, but no rope. This is a problem. Oh well, I’ll pop through the door and kill whatever it is. I open the door…

What do they feed it for the rest of the year?


…and shut it again, leaning against it in shock for a few moments. Right. I suppose I have to fight it. I open the door again and stride boldly into battle against the tyrannosaurus with gladiatorial training. At least it doesn’t have a trident and net. Of course, I kill it with ease… and more than a little luck. I’m an adventurer, this is what we do. I swig down my potion of fortune and search around, finding a magic shield under a trapdoor, and then leave by the double doors opposite the point where I entered the Pit Fiend’s Arena of Happiness. Further down the tunnel I find a red line on the floor and a sign that says “no weapons beyond this point”. I think this is bullshit and carry on, eventually finding a marble hallway full of tall pillars. Oh, and a ninja.

The shurkien he throws sails past me, because that potion of fortune worked out to make me the luckiest woman in the world for a moment. Then we square off. As far as I can tell, he’s the last competitor in the dungeon.

There's no background for this image (okay just a circle, but still).

I suppose he sneaked past the Pit Fiend. That’s practically cheating.

“I have to kill you to win!” he says coldly.

“Listen,” I say, “I just killed a tyrannosaurus rex in a gladiatorial arena. I’m not impressed by you.”

I kill the ninja. He’s not too hard to take down. I then eat my last cheese sandwich and loot the corpse of all healing items and also a diamond. All righty. What’s next? Well, the only way forward is down… a chute. This would be kind of funny if it tipped me into a pool of acid. Huh, I probably should have thought of that somewhere before halfway down… But it doesn’t happen. I land on a hard stone floor and stand up, dust myself off, and look around. Between me and the exit from this chamber is…

It's a bit like a frog but more angry, and less limbs.

Iain McCaig proves once again that a cover sells a book. I wanted this one SO BADLY when I was six.

One of those. It’s bulbous. It’s green. It’s spiky. It has horrible blisters that burst open while I’m watching to reveal eyes. I read all about it earlier. First things first, I chop off its tongue before it can drag me into the pool of acidic slime, Then I try to pierce its eyes. Two eyes, no problem. This is why a literate adventurer is a well-prepared adventurer. I carry on and find another room full of marble pillars. It’s also full of manticore, but I read that parchment and have a shiny new magical shield ready, and don’t get a face full of tail spikes. I somehow manage to kill the monster and then I’m faced with… Oh no, no way… a fucking GNOME?!

Skulls and batwings mean it's a serious door.

If this door was any more ominous then it would have a big neon sign saying THIS IS AN ONMINOUS DOOR.

“Greetings, I am Igbut!” he says. I start to giggle uncontrollably.

“Silence! No laughing at my name! I am the trialmaster for your final test. You need three gems to open the door. Do you have any gems?”

He rattles off three gems, and I have them all: Emerald, sapphire, diamond. So I start sticking them in the lock while the gnome squeaks about how no-one else ever found them all before.


The lock shocks me when I get them wrong.




This is ridiculous. If I’d brought the pit fiend along instead of killing it I could have it try instead.


Oh wow.

Igbut is kind of excited, and throws a glass globe containing poison gas at my feet. Dirty tricks from a gnome: Who would have thought it? I jump away and then follow Igbut through the door. At the end of the tunnel I can see daylight, but halfway I can see a gnome with a crossbow bolt through his head. His eagerness to escape led him into the final trap. When I walk out of the dungeon everyone cheers. I get given the chest full of gold. But the best part is that Baron Sukumvit looks quite surprised.


Hahaha! VICTORY! Okay, yes, I read all the other Fighting Fantasy blogs. Thus, my figuring out the right way through isn’t a particularly stunning achievement, and coupled with dice that love me it’s not that amazing. Except… I ended the book on a Stamina of 3, had no provisions left, and had drunk my potion of fortune. So this is one of those cases where yes, you best have the highest stats. The book is sneaky though and builds up to the more extreme encounters.

There’s a real sense of dread about halfway through where you realise shit just got real what with the deadly traps and the monsters and the fact that you have to find a particular group of items to win. Subsequently, the fight with the ninja was really tense. At that point I was back in a part of the book I knew about and was aware that within a few pages I’d either win or die. I felt like I had something to lose!

Well, after my stunning achievement here, I’m feeling good about the next book in my pile. Let’s see, it’s… Crypt of the Sorcerer. Oh shit.

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: People actually enter this contest?! STAY THE FUCK OUT OF DEATHTRAP DUNGEON. I MEAN IT.

Ridiculous Battle: In close succession: Pit Fiend: Skill 12 Stamina 15. Ninja: Skill 11, Stamina 9. Bloodbeast: Skill 12, Stamina 10. Manticore: Skill 11, Stamina 11. You can avoid the Pit Fiend with the right items, and the Bloodbeast is a two round fight if you find the book, but all in all that is a cruel end of game sequence.

Victory: You get a laurel and proclaimed the Champion of Deathtrap Dungeon. Oh yeah and 10,000 gold pieces. Plus Baron Sukumvit looks shocked that you actually survived.

What Was I Thinking? Taking a right turn at the first junction gets you some rope, which makes a couple of later tasks a lot easier. I, of course, didn’t do that.

Dungeon Master

I will eventually run out of Fighting Fantasy books to read since the majority are out of print. So, when I do run out you’ll all have to nag Wizard Books to republish all the out of print ones. But I thought, hey, I can always post about computer RPGs to stave off the inevitable endpoint. So first off…

There are no candelabras in the game, but there's one here.

This party is mentioned in part of the backstory. They die, and get trapped in mirrors.

Dungeon Master is probably the shining dawn of the modern RPG. Or at least part of it, because there’s all sorts of things we value in modern games, like the ability to customise characters, actual characterisation, plots that aren’t just contained in the manual, and plots that aren’t about saving the world from the forces of evil… Hah, just kidding about that last one. There’s so few RPGs that aren’t about killing some evil wizard/demon/whatever that I’m struggling to think of a title other than Ultima IV.

But anyway, this is a first person, real-time, survival-oriented dungeon crawl. Those were novel things that Dungeon Master did so well people still adore it today. The plot is that there’s this guy called the Grey Lord and he’s split himself into two beings. One is Lord Librasulus (a jerk who represents order), and Lord Chaos (a jerk who represents some other abstract concept that you will have to guess). The “good” one wants to waste the “evil” one so he’s been sending adventurers into his former dungeon home to try and recover something called the Firestaff. Except they all die and get trapped in mirrors. But now the ghost of his apprentice, Theron, is going to go in there and free four of these heroes and guide them to success. Or not, because recovering the Firestaff is a bad idea, albeit one cut from the final game. The real goal: Fuse the two law and chaos dickheads back together and thus save the world from both of them.

Yes, you are Theron, a named and gendered protagonist. Who doesn’t actually have an once of characterisation dialogue or even existence in the game world outside the background story, which thus means Theron served no other purpose than to say, “we’re assuming the only men play these games, hah!” That is rather insulting, so we’ll pretend that didn’t happen.

Yes, now you know why I love Fighting Fantasy so damn much – those books have yet to tell me I’m not actually the person reading them. So, for the purposes of this review I’m not “Theron”, I am Me. I’m a ghost and I’m being sent into the dungeon to find and resurrect (they come back to life, hardened and skilled adventurers) or reincarnate (they come back to life but with their class levels turned into higher stats) four bloodthirsty lunatics to wage war on the forces of Chaos, unravel sinister traps, and probably end up hopelessly dead.

Onward to Dying When I Run Out of Food Too Far From a Spawn Room!

It’s a good thing I’m a ghost because the ceiling is really low in here. Also, it’s a good thing the top floor of the dungeon with the Hall of Champions is built out of glowing rock. Right, let’s find four idiots trapped in mirrors and drag them the hell out of there to do my bidding and fulfil my every perverted whim.

Don't hold your breath, it's just an RPG inventory and stats screen.

Syra would prove to be the most useless member of the party outside of being a drinks dispenser.

Thankfully my magic ghost powers let me see their statistics, the rank they have in the various skills, and also the exact amount of weight they can carry. Being a ghost has some perks.

Another stat screen. The excitement never ends!

That amulet boosts mana by three, meaning the mana-less front line fighters can be trained up to be wizards early on.

Unfortunately I can’t actually tell how much damage a weapon does, or what the magical items actually do, unless they change people’s stats. So this entire expedition to save the world from chaos and destruction is going to be one long and tedious exercise in guesswork.

Yet another stats screen. Don't worry, only one more to go.

I don’t know, I just get the feeling she’s not entirely original. Who cares though? A badass woman with sword is just who we need. We’ll find some proper armour as soon as possible.

The other thing I realise as I poke around the mirrors is that either these people threw all their good gear away, or they came in here woefully unprepared. No-one has 50 feet of rope and a ten-foot pole. Or in many cases, proper clothing. Or weapons.

Honestly, all these stats are meaningless to me.

The Ninja class is their only attempt to veil the D&D inspired nature of RPGs. It’s called Dungeon Master, for fuck’s sake, we know it’s based on D&D.

Right, four women plucked from their existence in a limbo world contained inside a mirror, and ready to follow my orders. One of my first utterly insane demands is that the women I choose to venture into certain doom stand close together in a square formation at all times. They may only move together as a group. The best part of this is that if one of them walks into a wall, they all walk into a wall. If one of them falls down a hole, all of them fall down a hole. This would probably be funnier if I could see them, but once I’ve resurrected my first adventurer I’m forced to only view the world through the eyes of one person at a time. Being a ghost sucks.

Right, now that I’ve resurrected four women with various abilities that don’t entirely suck I can descend into the dungeon proper and start killing things. Unfortunately this is a really dingy dungeon so torches, or magical spells that produce light, are essential.

Now it's just a black screen.

This is one of the more creepy aspects of the game until you’re high level.

I naturally picked two hardcore violent women who have a mana pool somewhere near zero to be my front line, and subsequently will be grumbling about their inability to cast spells for some time. Thankfully the decidedly combat-average women in the back row have wizard skills and can, in theory, throw fireballs. In practice they will probably throw a lot of rocks during the endless waves of combat. Assuming I can be bothered making someone pick all the rocks, arrows, shuriken, and drumsticks up over and over again.

I'm not going to explain what a mummy looks like.

This is the first monster. The traditional early game creature, Rattus Fuckallexperiencus, is found much later. Then your party dies.

I have to tell each member of my party – or rather, tell the party leader who then tells them – to attack, and how to attack, what runes to cast to form spells, what to eat and when to eat it, when to drink, and basically I’m doing more micromanaging than would be implied by some kind of metaphor comparing me to the head ant at a fresh carcass. Thankfully the first proper dungeon floor is mainly an easy walk from the start to the finish, with some low-grade puzzles, as if Lord Chaos had to warm up before making all the really lethal traps. Throw lever to close pit, find keys, kill shouty mushroom… you know the drill.

Relatively harmless but still creeps me out.

No really this is totally not like the D&D one because um… it… is… green?

In fact, thanks to my picking a ninja and actually letting her stick to ninjaing (i.e. stabbing things with pointy things), the party is soon swimming in unwanted and unneeded heavy weapons. The dungeon is awash with falchions and clubs, presumably left behind by the other hapless adventurers who were turned into mummies and screamers and other fun things. But all in all it’s a cakewalk. You’d almost think I’d done this before.

It’s the third floor where things heat up as a wall tells me to Choose Your Door, Choose Your Fate. There’s a series of portcullises between the party and the stairs down and presumably some keys in here somewhere. I decide to try and find a door that does not involve rock monsters.

It looks like a pile of rocks.

Too late, Rock Monsters.

What ensues is the by now standard Dungeon Master fight scene: Four women leaping forwards in formation to strike and then backwards in formation to get away before the pile of rocks can poison us. Yes, it’s a poisonous monster that looks like a pile of rocks. They’re extremely deadly. Also very hard to kill, so this involves a lot of hopping around and slowly retreating as the inexorable advance of a pile of rubble threatens to send my front line to poisontown. Thankfully poison bolts can be fired through portcullises and gaping pits are effective deterrents. Eventually all the monsters in the various challenge rooms are dead and the party has gained more completely useless gear than anyone could ever need. They’re also well on their way to stealing all of Lord Chaos’ cheese.


We’re coming for all the fucking cheese under this fucking mountain!

And so didst the bold adventurers descend into the actual hard part of the dungeon, a floor filled with purple worms. Let me tell you about purple worms. They are huge, hard to kill, poisonous (are you noticing a theme?), and also don’t actually give you anything worthwhile when they die, just some barely nutritious worm rounds. You know what? I hate purple worms. It takes ten minutes to kill one, and if Sonja isn’t getting poisoned Leyla is nearly dying from being chewed on. The best part is that worms appear if you stand on certain tiles. The triggers for the wormotrons are invisible, and often involve the extremely unfair trick of having them in corridors. This means the tactic of slowly retreating is doomed to failure since the merry band of idiots will inevitably trip the wormotron trigger as they back away from the first pair of worms. But in the end they triumph, and proceed down to the next floor, which promptly drops the party through a pit in a room of ever-moving holes.

The wall is laughing at me!

Actually, I climbed down with the rope to take this screenshot because I’m too skilled and experienced to fall in. Then later I fell in. Over, and over, and over again.

But it’s okay, all that’s needed is some patience and care to trip the holes in the right way to get through. We can take our time, it’s not like there’s any flying snakes.

You just know that when we can genetically engineer wings onto things some idiot will put them on poisonous snakes.


Yes, it’s poisonous too.

But not to worry, after the last floor everything down here is trivially easy to take out. It could also be the case that the party is now so loaded with weapons and armour that they no longer need to worry about being killed. Of course even that’s not an issue, since there’s altars of rebirth that conveniently resurrect dead adventurers, provided their bones are thrown onto the altar… and assuming the survivors can trek all the way back to the last altar without being taken out by the eternally spawning worms.

Fully loaded out adventurers are happy adventurers.

Armed and dangerous and on a mission to steal all Lord Chaos’ cheese.

Overconfidence naturally proves to be the downfall of this expedition, as a particularly vicious flying snake takes out the two who can actually fight, leaving the slightly hopeless spellcasters to lug their corpses back through the dungeon. But the slime throwing slime monsters that have appeared between them and the staircase have other ideas.


Is it a good game? Yes, I think so. It’s still a good game. It should tell you something that decades after I first played it I still get drawn in to rampaging through the dungeon and trying to finally deal with Lord Chaos. It’s bloody hard but I think the fun is more in getting there rather than winning. Though I would say that, since I haven’t ever finished it.

There’s an expansion called Chaos Strikes Back which I refuse to try again just now, because I don’t think there’s ever been a game so absolutely, incredibly fucking evil. You start in the dark, with no items, and if you don’t immediately execute a set of manoeuvres you get cornered by some ultra-powerful purple worms. If you stay put, you get surrounded by the worms. Oh, and the party starts on a wormotron switch. The official sequel, Dungeon Master 2, is not as enjoyable as the original and Chaos Strikes Back. Or at least, I can never get into it.

One of the things that makes Dungeon Master more difficult that other RPGs is that there’s absolutely no clue in the game what the skills do, or how good the armour is. Thanks to the obsessed fans, this information is all readily available these days so I spent some time learning how the attack skills work and wow, is it ever easier to play with that information. If I was playing this for serious and not just to goof around to get some screenshots, I’d have opted to reincarnate the characters instead of bringing them back with class levels. A little bit of extra work at the start of the game makes for a better party long term (nb: don’t do this in Chaos Strikes Back, you will die).

Something that stands out today is how quiet the dungeon is. There’s almost no noises apart from the occasional clicks of switches and clattering of doors (they’re all sliding double doors or vertical drop doors), monsters saying “raaah!”, spells going off, and the attacks. It’s a bit strange, actually, but shows how lucky we all are to have fancy things like full sound effects and more than two frames of animation for everything. It’s still great though, so I suppose those are luxuries and not necessities for an immersive game.

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: It seemed normal way back when, but having to pick the spells up piecemeal in the dungeon makes no sense.

Ridiculous Battle: The rock monster that chased me back to a pit that had re-opened, which I had to climb down into to escape, and then I spent and hour – an actual, real-world hour – trying to heal the party up and stay alive killing it. Then I met another.

Victory: How would I know? I still can’t finish the bloody game!

What Was I Thinking? Not thinking up new categories for the wrap-up. There’s a limit to how far this stretches to computer games. Oh okay, something to do with the game: I determined via the wonders of the internet where a wormotron switch was and then still went backwards over it, remembering just afterwards that I couldn’t run away on that floor.

Blood of the Zombies

“A pulley? Where the hell was a pulley?”

Blood of the Zombies by Ian Livingstone

Well, isn’t this a treat? To celebrate 30 years of Fighting Fantasy, Ian Livingstone wrote a new book. Sadly Steve Jackson wasn’t involved, but Livingstone is going to try and drag him back to the big flowchart for the 40th anniversary of everyone’s favourite (shut up, Lone Wolf fans, let us have our moment) single player RPG series.

The plot is… uh… I’ve been kidnapped and thrown in the dungeon of a Romanian castle while on a tour of Europe looking for evidence that any mythical creatures are real (mythology being my field of study, according to the intro). I don’t know more than that. The plot is revealed slowly through the course of the book. So I have NO IDEA what is going on.

Zombies vs. door: The door always loses in the end.

Now this is exciting! Also terrifying. Where is my shotgun? Aaaaah!

Actually, now that I think about it… there might just possibly be some zombies involved.


Skill: No skill score?!?!
Stamina: 16 (screw you, dice)
Luck: No luck score?!?!

The book is streamlined to make it more exciting for the modern reader. Fie on that, I prefer rolling dice and adding a skill score. Hmph. There’s one boon here: Stamina has no maximum. You can scoff all the food in the castle to become indestructible. Yes!

Equipment: I start with nothing. I have my fists, which deal 1d6-3 damage.

From the adventure sheet it appears I will be able to find med-kits, grenades, dollars (unified world currency of fictional books, sort of like the gold piece), and ammunition (unlimited once you have some).

Combat is handled by rolling for damage and that many zombies die. Then I take 1 damage for each surviving zombie (so I’m going to die). This is apparently a first-person shooter in book form. There’s even a space on the adventure sheet for a frag count.

Onward to Adventure!

So, I’m locked up in a cell, and chained to the wall. Not ideal, but whatever. I’m sure it’s all a misunderstanding, and eventually I’ll be set free by whoever owns this castle. It’s nice to see old traditions of brutal feudal rule carried on in this modern era, but I’m sure it’s not good for tourism. It’s also probably not so good for maintaining European Union membership. Otto, the rather nasty jailer, told me I’m in Goraya Castle, owned by one Gingrich Yurr. I’m sure things will be sorted out soon enough. Any minute now…

Any hour now…

Any day now…

Okay, enough waiting. Five days of cold stew has hinted that I’m not the victim of a misunderstanding, so I kick the crap out of Otto and free myself. I introduce him to the other side of the jailer/prisoner equation, and then go and loot the room he lives in. All I find is a pocket knife, some money, and some string. Also a bag that has some junk which I tip out, but I keep the accordion magazine since it might come in handy if I need to bribe an accordion player. On my way out of the dungeon I also find a key with a number stamped in it. As I stow it in my pocket I am suddenly overcome with an urge to hoard anything with a three-digit number on it.

The dungeon exits into a storeroom where I bribe some workers for information (the pay is good, the perks are lousy, and they never get time off). It turns out Gingrich Yurr is turning people into zombies with some diabolical concoction. It only works on people who are physically weak, which explains the starvation. Stopping this insane plan for world domination via zombie apocalypse would require killing all the zombies and… yeah, I’m the only thing standing between a crazed necrophiliac and the rest of the human race. Great.

These clowns also charge me for any supplies. I get some gloves, a hacksaw, and a pulley. I have no idea what good any of this stuff will be, but I feel a compulsion to hoard random items all of a sudden. I wander off, turning left without thinking about it and finding a laundry room, which has a change of clothes and also a baseball bat. Plus two zombies in a cupboard guarding some bullets. On the way back I find a narrow passageway, which leads to an old workshop full of zombies.

A small horde of zombies attacking the reader because this is what zombies do.

These books really make you appreciate black and white art. There should be an exhibition.

I kill them and then find my way into a coal store, and suddenly feel a compulsion to dig through the coal. This turns up a grappling hook and rope. I continue onward, and find a boiler room. Some zombies fall out of a vent in the ceiling and I kill them too, and make off with a crowbar. Back in the main corridor I kill some zombies, one of which is holding a pistol. A nearby crate reveals a couple of grenades. Right, all set except for a shotgun and chainsaw. Emboldened by my arsenal, I open a nearby manhole and despite the stench, climb down into the sewer. It’s mainly stinky… well, stinky and full of giant mutant zombie rats. I decide the prudent course of action is to lob a grenade at them, and then realise that throwing a grenade in a sewer is going to result in a short, sharp shower of shit.


I continue through the sewer and out again, and eventually I find a room which contains a whole lot of gaming paraphernalia, including a collection of books with garish green spines and titles like The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. I grab the last nine and continue onwards, raiding libraries, killing zombie drummers, finding machine guns, generally looting and pillaging, and all the while trying to think up good one-liners. Eventually I realise that even though I can’t think of any the castle is full of zombies. Anything I do say will only be heard by me so it doesn’t matter how crap my puns are.

I end up in a clock tower. It’s a nice enough view, and the clock seems to be defunct so I’m not going to be deafened by the bell any time soon. But the dynamite-toting zombie on the stairs might be a problem. I’m not entirely sure how this particular zombie understands concepts like lighting a fuse, but it certainly doesn’t understand that when using dynamite as a weapon, one has to throw it. I shoot the zombie and then leap away from the explosion. The clock tower remains standing, but the stairs are gone. I will have to rappel down the outside. On the roof of the castle I get to see Gingrich Yurr drive into his garage, and I leap through a skylight onto a bed before I’m seen. It’s quite a nice bedroom with en-suite, apart from the garish yellow decoration everywhere. Thankfully some zombies come in and I splatter their blood around to make the place look a little more interesting. On my way out of the bedroom I meet Boris the storeroom worker, who unfortunately gets killed by the zombies he’s running from. I continue to explore, finding the diary of the castle cook/intern/damsel in distress, who is apparently called Amy. Judging from the ranting she’s had a fun time, slowly going mad from the realisation that she’s an intern cook in a castle full of mad scientists and zombies. Also, she knows how to work the lift. That’s handy. I head for the basement to look from her. I know she’s still alive because there’s no final entry that frantically mentions zombies about to break through the door before being cut off in mid-sentence.

In the basement I’m attacked by a group of zombies led by a zombified Boris – I knew I forgot to do something upstairs – and then I find a freezer room. Inside is a zombie woman with a chainsaw, who I kill. This, I feel, is a turning point in my zombie slaying quest, since now I have a shotgun and a chainsaw, and thus am invincible. I pass through the basement and into the north wing of the castle, only to see a young woman run by and lock herself behind a door. I’m the lucky bitch who gets to fight the horde of zombies that was chasing her. Zombies killed, I proceed into the room.

Attractive young blonde woman, holding revolver, looking panicked. Because of Zombies. Or maybe Jehova's Witnesses.

Don’t worry pretty young intern, I’m here to save you!

Amy is having a bad day, but seems to be cheered up no end by the sight of me, which suggests that she’s got a thing for badass zombie-killing women. Of which there’s exactly one in the world. HAH. We decide to check out the private study behind the office, and I spend some time gawping at the pictures of mythological beasts on the walls, until Amy clips me around the ears and tells me to get on with searching. The laptop has some information about a secret exit from the castle, while the phone… well, all I can do is call the extension for Yurr’s private quarters. He’s not very happy. Apparently he’s sending someone to kill us. Amy panics a bit, but I’m not worried.

“One zombie? How bad can one zombie be?”

Suddenly a loud smashing noise can be heard from the office outside. We run from the study and find that the one zombie is a two-metre tall gorilla mutant zombie.

Zombie Kong goes down in a hail of bullets, which just goes to show you shouldn’t mix genres like that. I then hustle Amy to the secret exit and let her out, and then go back inside to finish off the last of the zombies. I find a telescope and use it to scope out the zombies outside. There’s also a Browning machine gun mounted on the balcony opposite. Also on the balcony opposite is Gingrich Yurr, who injects himself with a syringe full of blood and then drinks some more blood out of a wine glass. Mixing genres is going to be very bad for his health. Of course, turning himself into a zombie is probably also bad for his health. I run back through the basement, and see through some doors the mad scientists Yurr hired having an argument. I feel unable to just gun them down, due to some kind of crisis of conscience. I bluff them instead, using a lab coat I found in the castle. Scientists gone, I destroy the laboratory, wipe out some more zombies, and then head up a fire escape to the roof. The only way onward is to use a pulley to get across a cable to the balcony with the heavy machine gun. Thankfully I really do have a steel pulley. Yes. Absolutely knew that would be useful later. I zip over, grab hold of the Browning and turn the zombies in the courtyard to mincemeat. Unfortunately there’s waves of them. Also a couple of the scientists from downstairs have become zombies, and they’re now attacking me with axes. This is insane.

Wait, no… Being shot at with a rocket launcher… That’s insane. I’m amazed Zombie Yurr is smart enough to know what it is, aim it, and fire it. I am forced to leap to safety. I charge into the other wing of the castle, find a shotgun, and charge back out only to find another horde of zombies which I kill. Then Yurr tries to run me over in his car. Except he can’t remember how to change gears. I take the time to draw a bead on him and as he gets the car started, I put a bullet in his head. He spins out of control and cause a huge explosion, which is fine by me. I walk off, my job done.

…and then he attacks me. God damn it, I forgot this is a zombie movie! I fend off Zombie Yurr, kick the zombie some more, and then shoot him. A lot. Then I go and get into the van nearby, counting down from five… I start the engine on one, and on zero a zombie lands on the roof and leans down in front of the windscreen. I shoot it through the roof and then jump out and shoot it some more. Then I drive out of the castle courtyard. I’ve had enough zombies for one day.

I pick up Amy on the way to the village, and we drive down to report the fun times in castle Goraya. The police are, for some reason, not receptive to our tales of zombie infestations, and tell us to go and spend the night in the local inn while they check out the castle tomorrow. While the night is pleasant, the morning brings a zombie horde. I probably should have locked the gates of the castle after I left…


I missed 22 zombies. So everyone dies, zombie apocalypse, end of the human race, all that sort of thing. But the correct ending suggests that there might have been some zombies hiding in a skip and implies the reader talks themselves out of the possibility – Sequel hook! Hopefully a sequel with a skill score…

Some people complained about the body count thing, but having to kill all the zombies is an open invitation to look behind every door, squeeze into every filthy hole, and generally explore like mad. Unfortunately rolling a single damage die is a pain, since you can get unlucky more than once and take some scathing injuries from even small groups of zombies. Thus weapons with positive modifiers and multiple dice are the point where things start to get easier.

Sadly a few bad damage rolls means certain doom. This book is hard. Really hard. It’s all down to getting lucky with the dice (and the absence of Luck and Skill means a 50-50 chance for risky situations). I gave myself three extra lives and only just made it through the book… and then I was still a handful of zombies short.

It’s still a fun book to read. There’s a lot to be said for trying to get an FPS and a zombie film into a gamebook and to some extent succeeding, as well as making it atmospheric enough that it’s a fun read. But the book is very linear, with the only branching section that doesn’t lead to a dead-end causing failure since you miss an item. Amazingly I went the right way every time.

Yes, I really did find a room with a collection of Fighting Fantasy books inside. There wasn’t a copy of this book where you could read through it and find a copy of this book and… I’ll just stop there, shall I? Gingrich Yurr’s office also has a postcard with “Happy 30th Zagor” on the back, which is probably a double reference.

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: When I was told “But even though these are the evil scientists responsible for creating Yurr’s Zombies, you know you can’t just run in and shoot them.” – Fuck that!

Ridiculous Battle: Tough choice here, but I’d have to say the fight with Zombie Kong, where you have to deal 20 damage in one round to kill him, or he gets to deal 6 in return. And then you try again. At best you’ve got a 25.9% chance of winning in a given round.

Victory: You wake up the next morning, after a restless night worrying that you missed some of the zombies. Maybe they were hiding in that skip in the courtyard? The local police don’t care. Investigating the events at the castle might be bad for tourism. Amy goes back to New York, you do extraordinarily well at university, and that’s it.

What Was I Thinking? In my first attempt I yelled out for the jailer and got severely injured as a result. So I started again. The fact is there’s no room for mistakes in this book, since the combats are so lethal.

Caverns of the Snow Witch

“Why is a bird-man as tough as a dragon?!”

Caverns of the Snow Witch by Ian Livingstone

So this is apparently a prequel to Forest of Doom. This is news to me because I never got remotely near the end of this book when I read it all those many years ago… and I wasn’t even doing the combat. It is very difficult.

It’s also the first time a Fighting Fantasy book has a female villain. Unfortunately she’s a rubbish villain who doesn’t have a name (Titan: The Fighting Fantasy World gave her the name Shareella after the fact) and doesn’t have Skill and Stamina scores – Though I suppose Zanbar Bone doesn’t have stats either, and he’s cool, right? Oh and the original cover barely features her:

Evil sorceress in crystal ball magically choking Orc servant to show how evil she is

Getting trapped in a crystal ball was all part of her plan. Her plan is stupid.

That is her big evil villain moment and she spends it in a crystal ball. Overall this is a book that should be super awesome but really is a let-down because the villain doesn’t do much and is foiled easily provided you’ve grabbed three items. I like villains, so I was a tad disappointed.

I suppose it’s obligatory to note that the book is an expanded version of a mini-adventure that was published in Warlock magazine. Also deserving of mention is that some of the interior illustrations ended up looking like wood cuts, which feel right for the setting. This book has a lot of style, even if it’s basically an exercise in dying over and over.

It’s no secret that the Snow Witch part is actually only about two-fifths of the book, the book as a whole consisting of finding the mission to kill the Snow Witch, finding and killing her, getting out of the caves, and then being cured of the Death Spell while going on a walking tour of northern Allansia. It’s kind of neat to get a prolonged trip that passes by or mentions so many locations. I suppose this is the first book in the series to conceptualise the world as a coherent whole.


Skill: 11
Stamina: 22
Luck: 10

Equipment: Standard gear. Sword, leather armour, backpack, 10 provisions, potion of… um… Fortune.

Onward to Adventure!

I’m a caravan guard. Not the most glamorous of jobs, but it’s the closest thing to honest work for an adventurer. Unfortunately, this caravan has found the trade outpost in the Icefinger Mountains to be wrecked by some horrible monster. Ever the brave (foolhardy), enterprising (money-grubbing) and noble (callously mercenary) swordswoman, I refuse to hunt down the monster for anything less than 50 gold. After returning to the ruined outpost, I set off into the mountains. The snow is knee-deep, and I’m starting to think that I should have charged more for this monster hunt when I find a crevasse. There’s a bridge of ice over it. Going around would involve a lot more trudging through snow, so I cross the bridge… and promptly slip off and am saved only by landing on a ledge. I clamber out and consider that maybe being lazy is dangerous in these cold and treacherous lands.

I continue to climb up the mountain, only to be attacked by some wolves. Not just any wolves, but white ones with mad red eyes. I’m starting to think this is a bad mountain to be stranded in a snowstorm on. A good thing, then, that it’s not… oh damn. I make an igloo and wait out the storm. Afterwards I trek further up the mountain and find a hut, which I promptly loot of all stew, warhammers, and spears, and then leave. There’s some footprints leading up the trail, so I follow. What I find at the end of them is the owner of the hut, being mauled by a yeti. Like an idiot, I charge on in and somehow don’t get killed.

The trapper is dying, but he tells me that there’s this evil Snow Witch who wants to start a new ice age, and her caverns are totally full of precious stones. Then he dies. So at the foot of this mountain is a sure-fire 50 gold waiting for me. Further up the mountain is a cave network full of evil minions of evil and maybe some gems. I don’t know what an “ice age” is, but it sounds like it might be cold and right now I’m sick of the cold and don’t want it following me back to warmer climes. Plus, untold riches!

When it comes down to it, any excuse to run through a network of passages and kill everyone I meet will do.

I clamber up the mountain and find the glacier the Snow Witch has made her home in, and walk into the illusionary wall. Or try to. I just bounce off the ice. A few tries later I find my way in. You know, it’s one thing for the evil sorceress intent on freezing the world to hide the secret entrance like this, but for the local do-gooder to not properly mark the entrance for their own amusement? That’s just not okay.

For some reason that shall forever go unexplained by the ages, just inside is a T-junction. I turn right, and find a cavern with a bowl full of yellow liquid, sitting on a plinth. There’s a ladle nearby. I’m feeling kind of thirsty, so I gulp down a spoonful and am healed by it. I return to the main passage and come across an Elf. “Hi there, I’m here to join the Snow Witch’s minions,” I say, hoping to get past. The Elf looks at me incredulously and explains that no-one willingly does this, and the magical choke-the-disobedient-til-they-become-necromancy-fodder collar is the only reason he hasn’t run off down the mountain. I decide to start again.

“Right, did I say join? Totally not what I meant. I’m here to kill the Snow Witch and then steal all her stuff.”

“Good to hear, have my cloak for a disguise.”

It’s not usual for honesty to be the best policy when invading a tunnel network owned by an evil practitioner of magic. I continue onwards and come across a kitchen, where a Neanderthal is skinning a moose under the instructions of a Gnome. I should stealthily creepy by, but I hate Gnomes. I step in to tell the wicked servant of evil and also head chef to stop abrading the help, but before I can get a word out the Gnome starts shouting at me and then says I can have a stale cake. This is rather insulting (only the finest of cakes and pastries for me!), so I spring to the attack. The Neanderthal, unable to comprehend that I am his saviour against the oppressive forces of Gnomery, attacks me. Ungrateful lunk. I kill him, but the Gnome flees, calling for help. I decide that the prudent course of action is to hang around and search the kitchen which will soon be swarming with guards. It’s a well stocked kitchen. There’s a magic flute, a stick with indecipherable runes – nothing says important like a stick with strange scratchings on it – and a book called The Secrets of Toads. I try to open it and get stabbed by a poisoned needle on the clasp. Not one to be put off by a poisoned book, I open it and find it’s hollowed out and inside is a frog amulet. It looks kind of stylish so I put it on and find it’s an amulet of courage.

I continue onwards and find a cave full of robed worshippers in front of an impressive ice carving of a demon. I suppose this would be a bad place to start a fight, so I use my cloak to sneak through. Once I get past the temple I hear someone calling for help. I suppose I should check and see if that’s legit. It turns out to be a Dwarf trapped in a pit and trying to escape from people throwing boulders at him from somewhere above. I help him out and then he scarpers, but not before giving me a sling and some shot in exchange for a warhammer, and warning me about a rat. I guess if a rat is the best minion the Snow Witch has got then I’m not in too much trouble.

As I walk deeper into the mountain I find a large skull with a passage through its gaping mouth. This is kind of corny, to be honest, so I am standing there staring at it wondering why the hell anyone would do that when a man in robes that can only be wizardly comes out. He’s holding a crystal, which probably means he’s dangerous. He orders me to turn back. I figure, I’m an adventurer… he’s probably an evil wizard… time for some good, old-fashioned wizard-killing. He promptly turns into three. An Illusionist! The most annoying of all wizards! I suppose it could be worse though… He could be a Gnome as well.

I stab at the illusionary Illusionists until I get the right one but he isn’t affected. I then opt for the more direct course of action and smash the crystal. The annoying bastard runs off screaming, and a Genie appears.

“Infinite wishes,” I say.

“What? No, not that sort of Genie,” replies the figure floating in mid-air. “You have won: A one-time invisibility spell! Prize is non-transferable and not refundable for gold piece equivalent.” and with that, he vanishes. Oh well, it’ll do.

I pass through the skull mouth, deciding that the other two passages onward are probably boring. I continue onward until I come to a room with a Frost Giant inside, carrying a wooden chest. Now if I were, say, a barbarian, I’d charge in and attack the giant and win. But I’m an adventurer. It might seem like a semantic point, but the fact is I’m not a bloodthirsty combat specialist. I’m more an all-rounder with a propensity for violence. But I do have a sling and some shot, so I have a go at taking him down the old-fashioned way. Amazingly this works, and he goes down like a giant who just got killed by an iron ball smashing his temple in. The chest shatters, and there’s three rings inside. I try on the gold one, and find it protects me from the cold. The copper one will summon a warrior to aid me, and the silver one is evil and tries to kill me.

I walk further into the mountain and get the Genie to help me slip past a golem made out of quartz. That there was the first precious stone I have seen in the entire dungeon, and it was going to kill me. Further on I find a zombie quartermaster, and after killing… re-killing… un-undeadening… making it not stand up and walk around any more, I steal some stuff. There’s some garlic. Every adventurer knows that if you see garlic, you take it, because you’re going to need it. It’s a law of the universe. See garlic, meet vampire. I also grab some powdered Minotaur horn and some dragon eggs. I return to the last T-junction and go the other way, coming to a door, beyond which is a sarcophagus – See? – and a white rat. The rat starts to change shape, so I throw that powdered Minotaur horn over it to stop it, somehow knowing that this would work. Now, what could possibly be in that sarcophagus?

Well, it’s actually the Snow Witch. She has fangs.

Woman with fangs and bird hat. Looks angry. Possibly because someone made fun of her hat

Caverns of the Snow Vampire Sorceress Witch wouldn’t have been as catchy

Normally I’d be worried, but the fearsome magical might of the Snow Witch is not really concerning me. Who in the hell would let themselves be turned into a vampire knowing full well that it causes garlic and stakes to appear everywhere they go? I wave the garlic I found earlier at her, pull out the runed stake I got from the kitchen, and make a quip about vampires as I stake her.

This turned out to be an easy adventure. I head over to the chest of gold frozen into the wall and hack it out. Then it turns out the expensive looking statue on top of the coins is actually a trap, and it turns into a full-sized guardian thing and tries to kill me. This is slightly unfair, but I get a shitload of gold for my trouble. Then a couple of people run in. They are a Dwarf and an Elf. Oh, this should be good.

It turns out they’re really pleased I killed the Snow Witch, and want to help me escape – there’s a horde of Goblins outside wanting to kill me. Fortunately they know about a secret passage masked by an illusion. The Elf finds it by walking into walls repeatedly.

“I thought your people could detect fake walls, and other such feats of underground lore?” I ask the Dwarf.

“Oh, aye, but it’s funnier watching him walk into the walls.”

Eventually the Elf finds the illusionary wall and we leave, and they introduce themselves as Redswift and Stubb. After the inevitable T-junction we all come across two sets of footprints painted on the ground. I have a sneaking suspicion this is a dirty trap, and so tell everyone to walk between them. Further on we find a casket set into the wall. It’s probably also trapped, so I let someone else open it, and then score the magic boots of quiet walking inside. And so they naturally run away and leave me to fight the caveman who attacks us. But the joke is on them. They were caught by the BRAIN SLAYER. Which is a humanoid figure with an octopus for a head.

This is certainly not a mind flayer

Actually, I think this is a whole lot more disturbing than the D&D squidheads

“Say,” I ask it, “do you happen to have any cousins who… ah…”

“No, I am absolutely not related to anyone who might be sometimes called a ‘mind flayer’ and object strongly to such vile accusations.”

“Right, sorry,” I say. “So you can’t actually psionic blast me?”

“What is a psionic?”

“You have no idea how glad I am to hear that,” I reply, and proceed to whack the brain slayer with my sword until it dies. I then steal all its stuff. After the others have recovered we set off through some more tunnels, and eventually find a door with some parchment on it. I can’t read it, so I ask the Elf. Redswift reads it, then shreds the parchment, refusing to tell me what it said. Further on we come to a cavern which contains a crystal orb on a plinth of ice. The Snow Witch is inside it. Or at least, her head is. She cackles a bit, then decides she will think up some kind of stupid game to play against me. After I fight some zombies.

Zombies are a bit dull and stupid, so it’s not too much trouble. She then demands that we play a game involving me hiding one of the tiny metal discs I’ve found and her guessing the shape. Somehow I get lucky and she is blasted from existence, which just goes to show that making up silly deals is always a bad idea when you’re a powerful sorceress. A cave-in occurs, but I manage to escape from the Crystal Caverns, sidekicks in tow. Okay, this is looking good, right?

Since the trade caravan is probably long gone, we all decide to head south towards Stonebridge. We make good time, getting ferried over the River Kok, walking past Firetop Mountain, and getting attacked by a flock of Bird-men. For some reason, Bird-men are as hard to kill as dragons, so I die.


So on my first try, I died to a Goblin – the SHAME – and on my second I died to a mammoth in the second paragraph I reached. Third try the yeti got me. Then everything was going just fine until a Bird-man with a Skill of 12 turned up. This book is ridiculously difficult.

I cheated and gave away the warhammer before it got me stuck into a combat where I have to fight a ridiculous opponent – the Crystal Warrior – and you can only use the more effective Genie option if you don’t have it. After dying three times I figured the book owed me one.

So, how is it a prequel to Forest of Doom? When you reach Stonebridge, Stubb heads off to the forest with someone called Bigleg to recover the warhammer. The main character of that book is obviously not the main character of this one, but together Caverns of the Snow Witch, Forest of Doom, and Temple of Terror make up a loose trilogy.

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: Why would anyone willingly turn themselves into a vampire? Why? I mean, sure, vampires are powerful in these books, but they also generate a magical vortex that draws in garlic and sharpened stakes.

Ridiculous Battle: The White Dragon, which is Skill 12 Stamina 14 and every round it gets a 1 in 3 chance of hitting your with its icy breath for 2 damage. That’s what the gold ring was for. The copper ring does let you call up a warrior, but considering the best random summon is Skill 9 Stamina 10 (surprisingly for an Ian Livingstone book, the barbarian is not the toughest), it’s not worth the trouble.

Victory: You watch the sun come up from the summit of Firetop Mountain and then set off to Stonebridge, to see how the quest for the warhammer went. We all know how well that turns out, don’t we?

What Was I Thinking? Trying this book with a Skill of 8 the first time. I got killed. A double digit skill score is required to actually win the book.


“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.

Curse of the Mummy

“I refuse to be intimidated by a swarm of wasps that forms into a giant wasp.”

Curse of the Mummy by Jonathan Green

The last book in the old series and reputedly rather difficult, though apparently toned down for the new series. I know little about it other than there’s a mummy and he’s got some kind of curse.

Mummies seldom make a lot of sense in fantasy roleplaying games that aren’t tied to Earth, but that’s because we’re so used to them being in the context of Egypt instead of generic fantasy worlds that it’s hard to swallow when they don’t come with it all. One of my favourite ways to justify all this is in the Forgotten Realms setting for Dungeons and Dragons, which has an entire kingdom called Mulhorand which is Egyptian themed by the simple excuse that the people there are actually descended from people from “some other world” who were brought there. Yes, like that film.

The things that go with mummies – sand, pyramids, animal-headed gods, sand, great stonework tombs, rivers, crocodiles, sand – are seen as essential to them. Though to be fair, the reason Egyptian mummification was so effective was the arid desert environment, so in some ways it comes as a package deal. In Fighting Fantasy there’s no good reason for mummies and Egyptian motifs, but they turn up in the oddest places. For example, Zanbar Bone has a sarcophagus in his tower. This might seem a little out of place in the medieval European inspired setting of early Fighting Fantasy books, but Zanbar Bone is the motherfucking Night Prince and a legit gangster necromancer, so he’s allowed any damn cliché he wants.

Yeah, okay, I’m looking forward to that book a wee bit. But I should probably concentrate on this one right now. Anyway, all else aside, this book finally gets down and dirty with explaining where all those sarcophagi and mummies and ankhs come from. So that’s a good thing.


Skill: 11
Stamina: 17
Luck: 9

Poison: 0

I’ve been stung, bitten, stabbed with poisoned blades, and drunk poisonous concoctions for no good reason, and built up some resistance. But too much poison is bad for me. If the poison score reaches 18, I die.

Equipment: Sword, Backpack, 5 Gold, and no armour or provisions or lantern. Uh oh.

Onward to Adventure!

Having booked passage on a ship to Port Blacksand and been attacked by pirates, shipwrecked, and washed up on a desert shore – I should have assumed this would happen, it’s called the Pirate Coast – I’ve decided to find some work to buy passage on another, more heavily armed ship. Thankfully they have an adventurer’s guild here. Adventurer’s guilds are handy for tips about dungeons full of evil wizards, but sort of useless on all other fronts. There are no standards to being an adventurer. Usually they just send you to the basement to kill some rats to prove you deserve membership. So, having killed some rats and unblocked the drains, I get to check out the job board. It’s really just a wall with some nails in it. The only job going is advertised thus: “Brave warrior required for dangerous mission into hills around the Desert of Skulls. Great rewards guaranteed.” I make some enquiries. The person who stuck the notice up is an archaeologist, whatever that means, and has a bad reputation among the local adventurers. They think he’s little more than a tomb-robber.

Adventurers calling someone a tomb-robber? Um… Okay…

I find Jerran Farr in a tavern and get to hear the history of Djarat, a lost civilization that fell when the lone continent on Titan was split into three. Apparently the last ruler, Akharis, was rather evil and swore to lay low the lands with plagues and destruction should he be woken from eternal sleep. Oh, and some cultists are trying to do just that. This wouldn’t be a problem, but some explorers happened to find a map to the Tomb of Akharis in a ruined temple, right before the cult killed all but one of them. The survivor managed to find the archaeologist’s campsite and then die before he could explain where this lost tomb is.

“I take it there’s a lot of valuable stuff in this dead king’s tomb?” I ask.

“Well, probably,” Jerran replies.

“Okay, stop the cultists, save world, and most importantly get stinking rich: I’m in.”

We get about ten metres outside the bar before three cultists attack. Two are dispatched, but the other escapes. I figure stopping off at the market is a good way to find him – he’ll try again. Farr hands me 30 gold and lets me buy supplies. I buy a ridiculous amount of ways to make fire, and also grab some rope and a telescope. I also get a sandworm tooth, since I’ve heard they come in handy in this desert, and then we set out. After much travelling we reach the dig site, and camp down for the night. The plan is to find some shaman who lives in the wilderness and pester him for help, and then go and find the map to the tomb. Of course, nothing is ever easy, and a giant scorpion slays the archaeologist in the middle of the night and has a good try at killing me too. I am not so easy to kill, and in the morning I bury Jerran Farr and set off into the hills. It’s not long before I find a ruined amphitheatre. I figure checking it out can’t hurt, right?

Wrong. A loud voice asks me who I am to enter the Theatre of the Gods. Now, there’s a lot of gods on Titan. A whole bucketful. But I don’t ever hear about them making personal appearances. I demand to see the owner of the voice. It turns out to be an actor – naturally, since who else would live in a disused theatre? I ask the Actor of the Ruins where to find the Shaman of the Wilderlands and he gives me directions, and also lets me trade my brass telescope for some of his various mementoes. I grab a key and a cryptic scroll, because they seem the most useful, and leave.

I decide finding this shaman is a good plan, since the more occult help I have the better. As I stop for lunch I plan ahead: If he’s not cooperative, I’ll just kill him and take his stuff. Shaman, wizard, it’s all the same. Anyone who won’t help stop an evil mummy destroy the world is probably a bad person. The growling I have been hearing all through my meal eventually annoys me enough that I have to go and see what it is. Staked under a net is a part lion, part dragon creature. I approach warily, and it starts shouting at me to get the net off. I think I know how this story goes, so I help it out. The Dracon is thankful, but there’s no time for chit-chat, as the trappers arrive and are angry. I kill their leader, and the creature is so grateful it flies off and returns with a large, gold, jewel-encrusted ankh. This is turning out well.

I reach Spirit Rock, which is a boulder balanced precariously atop a spire, and climb up. The shaman turns out to be a humanoid canine who wants to ask me riddles. I play along and get some more history and am teleported closer to the ruined temple with the map to the tomb. The next day I find the ruined temple, and it’s not too hard to guess where the tomb is. I saunter out, feeling clever, and see a red-robed figure running away. I figure the only good apocalyptic death cultist is a dead apocalyptic death cultist, and chase him… only to find he can psychically control wasps. I’m worried at first, until he makes them form one giant wasp to attack me. I struggle not to laugh as I kill the giant wasp made up of a million smaller wasps. After the swarm is dispersed, I notice the cultist has fled. I figure I’ll see him again, and head off, taking the shorter route through the hills.

I like hilly country. A flat plain only has so much visual interest going on. Unfortunately, even though I’m in the hills there’s still sand, and some of it happens to be a golem which attacks me. Have you ever tried to dig a hole using a sword? That’s what I’m doing here. I’d stand a better chance in this fight with a shovel. Eventually I defeat the walking litter box and continue the long trek through the hills, coming at last to the sprawling vista of the valley where the tomb is located. I can tell because it’s a wide-open doorway in the hillside with some saddled up lizards outside. As I watch, a cloud of sand appears and the cultist steps out. Oh, right then, they get to have magical sandstorm travel powers while I have to walk. Maybe I should sign up.

After sneaking past the giant lizards, I explore the depths of the temple. It’s really quite splendid, the high ceiling, the pillars, the paintings, the snake people throwing fireballs at me… You know, just once I’d like to visit an ancient tomb that isn’t crawling with reptilians. After killing them I proceed down the vast entry hall and find a T-junction. Left is best, so I go that way. I promptly trigger a trap and only just save myself. As I cling to the edge of the spike-filled pit I reflect on the life decisions I made that resulted in my ending up hanging on to the edge of a pit in an ancient tomb. Mainly the one to always go left. I clamber out, and wonder if I should change my world-view. Or maybe it would be good if there was a collapsible pole, maybe ten feet long, to tap at floors with? No, that would be silly. I’ll just rely on sheer luck and always turning left in future, like always.

Up ahead I come across a room, inside of which The Cultist is poking at the walls. A secret door opens, and he’s through and closed it before I can stop him. There’s three stones I can push, each marked with an animal. Snake, vulture, or scarab? I decide on scarab, snake, vulture, and am rewarded with a trap being triggered. This is not a subtle trap. No poison darts or guillotine blade swinging through a perfect arc, no. It’s a giant statue toppling down. I narrowly escape this with my life.

“Right,” I say to the millenia-old air of the tomb, “it’s going to be one of those dungeons.”

I find some stairs and descend into the ancient darkness. There’s a nicely built door down there, and also an animated rotting corpse. I’m not sure how there’s a rotting corpse in a desert tomb, because it should be desiccated, but whatever, I stab it a few times, accidentally inhale some foul spores, and proceed through the door. It opens into a corridor that goes left and right. I hesitate, but go left anyway. What is the worst that can happen? Well, first of all, after I steal a statuette of a cat I am attacked by two statues. Then I find a door with an inscription on it, which once decoded tells me how to open it. Inside, a statue of a ram-headed god gives me the ability to understand Djartan. That’s going to certainly be useful if anyone speaks to me in a forgotten language. You might think I’m being sarcastic, but I’ve been in tombs before: every second dead corpse is going to be mouthing off at me, and even if they just say “die, accursed one!” I’ll be sure to understand it.

Further on I find a room with three exits. I opt for the large ornate door. Ornate door means treasure, right? Well no, it means snake-headed animated corpses. Snake-zombies dispatched with consummate ease I continue and find a room crawling with snakes, left here to block my path to a box on a plinth. I’m not impressed by this stereotypical creep-out-the-explorer display. I scare the snakes off with a torch, gingerly lift a scroll out from amongst the scorpions in the box, use another torch to escape, and find I did all that for the Djartan Book of the Dead. Some use that is, I don’t want to mummify anyone.

I go back and try another door. It opens into a long room lined with statues of dead kings, and a large ornate chest displayed prominently at the other end. The worst case scenario here is that as soon as I open the box, all the statues come to life and pummel me to death. Do I take the chance? There’s a gilded chest on display in an ancient tomb: Do I ever. All that’s in the box is dried flower petals. This is a bit of a rip-off, so I sift through them. Of course, the dust is poisonous. I cough and hack a bit, but do not die thanks to my impressive poison resistance, built up through long years of being an idiot and getting bitten and stabbed by poisonous things. All adventurer skills are the result of prior stupidity. My reward in this case is an earthenware jar containing some indescribable body part. Okay, score! Onward into the tomb.

I wander for a bit, and eventually find a passage blocked by rubble. I figure that the rocks seem to have been placed deliberately, so I start to clear them by hand. Naturally, a lurching horror comes by while I’m working. Of course I don’t see it at first, and when I do realise something is standing next to me I start passing it lumps of rock. This continues for a few minutes, until I stop, and look slowly to the side. One dead tomb guardian later, I kick away the rest of the rubble and enter a featureless, boring chamber. Well, boring apart from the ghost doing maths puzzles. Typical, even lost civilizations were obsessed with this sort of thing (and for some reason almost every number puzzle on Titan has an answer which is less than 400). I tell him the answer, and he says he was the architect of the tomb. I resist the urge to call him names, and instead ask him a couple of questions about the tomb. As the ghost fades away I set off to find the secret treasure room, and find another canopic jar and a fancy breastplate. There’s also a tiny sarcophagus. I open it, and a mummified monkey leaps out and attacks me. Monkey re-deadened, I find a key in the sarcophagus.

Things are looking up, until I walk into a crushing ceiling trap. Not just any crushing ceiling trap, but one with spikes as well. Thankfully, the advice from the tomb builder gets me out of this jam. I press deeper into the forgotten depths, and find a huge statue of a cobra. It’s gold. It’s encrusted with jewels. It’s also two metres high, so I’m not going to be able to get it out of here. I figure grabbing that amulet it’s holding will have to do. I narrowly avoid falling into a pit of acid, swipe the prize, and get out of there. I wander onward, eventually finding a staircase down. At the bottom are two giant scorpion/human hybrid things guarding the door. I assume they’ve been sealed up in here for millennia waiting for someone to break in. I kill them, and proceed into a room with two archways and two skeletons slumped on the ground. As soon as I approach an archway they leap up, but I decide to just run for the other archway. I find myself in a chamber shaped like a pyramid, with a pillar in the middle and steps leading up to the top. I climb up, and find that the chamber is an all-purpose Djaratan healing and blade sharpening pyramid room. Well, that’s handy.

Further on I descend some more steps and find a partially flooded network of tunnels. I proceed to make several left turns, only to find a pair of crocodiles. I kill them far more easily than I really have a right to, and wander about hopelessly lost until I find a staircase out of the underground water park. I promptly run into a T-junction, and turn left, opening the door I can see right in front of me and finding a pantry. Now, a lot of the things left here as offerings to the dead Pharaoh are withered to uselessness, but I can always scavenge, right? I give it a go, like all good adventurers, and turn up four meals worth of food. I’m a natural at this! Unfortunately it turns out that the ancient belief that the images of servants would come to life is true, and one steps off the wall to attack me. Of course, the tomb builders painted kitchen staff in the pantry, and so I make short work of the larder guarding fresco.

I leave the ancient larder and gleefully saunter along the corridor, and spot a shaft in the ceiling. I decide to climb up it, and haul my way into a large gallery. I proceed, and eventually find a large pair of doors flanked by statues. I also find a strange shaggy beast which I kill with not a care. I figure that this thing, which I somehow know is the Djartan Guardian of the Dead, is my clue that Akharis is is through the door. Inside is a vast chamber, with huge piles of treasure visible in rooms to the side. There’s also a huge pile of serpent wrapped around the upright sarcophagus. I kill it and then open the coffin only to find Akharis isn’t inside. Oh, that’s not good. Neither is the torrent of sand filling the burial chamber.

This is ridiculous.

I notice there’s a way out under the sarcophagus, and push it aside, because I’m not thinking clearly enough to just topple it over. I escape down the newly revealed stairs and find myself in a huge cavern where there’s a lake, and a boat, and off in the distance, a necropolis. Nothing is ever simple! I row across and open the door of the first building I find, only to meet a Sphinx.

“So, mortal, why are you here?” she asks.

“I’m going to find Akharis and kill him. Er, re-kill him. Or stop him from coming back from the dead. So if he’s not back from the dead then I guess I’ll make him extra dead.”

“So I expect you know I’m going to ask you some riddles?”

“The answer is: A Man.” I say smugly.

“No, we stopped using that one about a thousand years ago.”

She proceeds to ask me who built the tomb, who the Ferryman of the Gods is, and how many trials are faced when journeying to the Djartan underworld.

“Those are not really riddles,” I say after answering the last one. “They’re more like trivia questions.”

“Shut up,” says the Sphinx, “I’m not in the mood. Big black pyramid on the other side of the city. Go.”

I make for the ominous black pyramid, and skirt the outside looking for a way in. There’s a crawlway several feet up, so I take a run-up, charge up the slope, and dive head first into the hole. Thankfully it’s not a trap. I fall out of the chute inside the temple, and start exploring. This lasts about as long as it takes for a cultist to sneak up behind me and knock me out. I awaken chained to a pillar, two cultists nearby watching the proceedings instead of me. I see there’s a ritual in progress. What must be Akharis is laid out on the slab in front of the priestess of Sithera. I wonder who they’re going to sacrifice… to…

Oh shit.

I pull on the ancient chains, and they give way. I knock out the two cultists that were supposed to be guarding me, and grab my sword and backpack. Okay, kill the priestess, destroy Akharis… but first, fifteen mummies. I throw burning oil and firepowder and my lantern, and then have to use a flaming torch to fight the remaining ten. I barely escape with my life, but I approach the priestess of Sithera for a final showdown…

…and die when it turns out the amulet I swiped from that cobra statue lets her mind control me. I’m forced to watch helplessly as my life force is syphoned out – via a hose in my ear – to resurrect Akharis. So close, yet so far.


There’s a glaring problem with this book: It’s possible to bypass the actual adventure. That wasn’t so bad in Spellbreaker, where the sideline was full of fun encounters, but here it’s just bland. After figuring out the fun path through the book it became much more entertaining. The other fun failure path is getting captured early on, taken to the endgame, and then sacrificed to bring back Akharis. Not to mention the ending where you win, but are crushed in the collapsing tomb. I suppose that’s a victory given the whole eternity of evil plaguing the world alternative.

I think it’s not such a great thing that a third of the book is a trek to the dungeon, and the second third is easy to miss. The last part is quite fun, but is frustratingly hard – and if you follow some advice from a helpful character, you will definitely lose the game (like I did). That is cheating. The final sequence when Akharis gets up out of the coffin he’s lying in is actually quite exciting, but you need a high skill score, a host of items, and also some lucky dice. I pretended I didn’t have that damn fool amulet and played through it anyway, and somehow, in some kind of miracle, managed to win the book – with a single point of stamina left. But the really galling part was that to make it to the actual victory you have to win a luck test, which could be impossible if you’ve burnt it off in combat.

One of the pictures feature a crowd of mummies, one of which looks suspiciously like an Osirian Service Robot.

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: When the Sphinx asked me Djartan trivia instead of real riddles. That was startlingly blunt and dropped me out of the plot. Sphinxes ask riddles, not pub trivia!

Ridiculous Battle: I’d say Akharis, who is ridiculously powerful. But there’s a paragraph where you fight 15 enemies, one at a time, and they all have skill 9 and stamina 12. So that’s 90 attack rounds to win in a single entry (as it’s 2 stamina per hit). If you have a flaming torch you get double damage, so it’s only 45 rounds. If you’re really forward thinking you can just about whittle them down to maybe ten enemies. Still, 30 rounds is far too many to win without a scratch (not to mention that if one fight takes longer than nine round, game over) – and the main villains come after this.

Victory: After being teleported out, you collapse by Lopar’s fire, exhausted. That’s it. Not untold wealth, no cheery ending, just someone saying “oh hey good job, take a nap now” – after all that? Hey, the back cover says I’d get treasure. Hmph.

What Was I Thinking? In my first playthrough I charged through the giant serpent maw portal on the basis that it looked cool, got captured, and then sacrificed to bring back the world-destroying pharaoh before I’d barely gotten ten feet into the tomb. Giant serpent mouths are almost as dangerous as wells!


“Of course I can’t die, I’m in a dungeon now.”

Spellbreaker by Jonathan Green

This is a late entry in the original series, and might be hard to find if it hadn’t been reprinted. This one introduces the country of Ruddlestone, on the continent known as the Old World. I know nary a thing about this setting or this book, and as such it’s all one big exciting mystery to me. What I do know is that the author wrote some notoriously difficult books. Oh well then, best get out the good dice…


Skill: 10 (All right then…)
Stamina: 19 (Oh dear…)
Luck: 8 (Oh, for crying out loud!)

Faith: 1 (no dice, you just get one point)

Faith is “inherent goodness and your belief in the forces of order” – right, so if my usual approach to roleplaying is anything to go by, it should probably be in the negatives before I start. Apparently if it’s high enough I can repel demons and evil spirits and get extra blessings. Finding relics of good will increase it. So I guess tomb robbing and looting temples is okay then?

Equipment: Sword, backpack, lantern, tinderbox, 9 gold pieces (1d6 + 4). Only 5 provisions, though. Wait, where’s my armour? Ahhh! No armour! Oh, I see… the book proper assumes I have some armour. That was alarming.

Onward to Adventure!

As I am an adventurer turned pilgrim, logically this means I am making a pilgrimage. Well, right now I’m running for shelter through the dark and stormy night, the howls of wolves all around. I find respite in a copse, where a friendly traveller offers to share their campfire. I consider killing him and taking his stuff, but then I remember that pilgrims don’t do that. It turns out he knows the way to Rassin Abbey, so I suggest that we head for the abbey together. I figure I don’t have to outrun the wolves, just him. Well, it turns out that the wolves are the least of my worries, since this storm is apparently raining demons. As we reach the abbey I dash in the door and yell at the traveller to come inside. Later, the friendly stranger starts sneaking about, so I follow, figuring people who sneak around are up to no good (people who crash about kicking in doors and killing people are adventurers, and therefore okay). He murders someone behind a locked door, and by the time I get in there, followed by some monks, he’s downstairs. We follow, only to find him stealing a big black book, and vanishing, leaving behind a demon.

It’s spewing sulphur fumes, but I kill it with the usual display of swordplay. Then it turns out that the Black Grimoire that was stolen is the indestructible repository of the most terrible spells known to witchcraft. The thief is called Nazek, who was once a foundling left at the abbey. By the age of twelve he was toying with dark magics and generally being a little shit. Now, he should have been unable to get back in here, what with being some kind of warlock, but I technically invited him while the demons were trying to attack him on the doorstep. Oh no, I see where this is going… Not only have I let an evil practitioner of black magic steal the Big Book of Evil Witchcraft, he’s probably going to use it to bust something called the Infernal Beast out of the Casket of Shadows. There’s only one thing I hate more than being tricked, and that’s being tricked into helping someone release an infernal evil from the dawn of time, if only because I’m liable to get blamed for the inevitable reign of terror and destruction of civilization. I agree to find the little bastard and make him pay. “Good,” says the Prior, “because you only have four days to do it.”

“Four days?” I say. “Not a problem!” and with that urgent quest laid at my feet, I go back to bed.

The next morning I check out the library. Forewarned is forearmed, so a little bit of research should be as good as dual-wielding. Sadly, all I find is a book about famous priests and saints. More interestingly, the herb garden has three useful plants, of which they will let me take one, because my world-saving mission can’t possibly disrupt the garden too much. I opt for garlic, since if there’s no vampires, it’s still handy in cooking.

On my way out the door, blessed by the monks, a servant says my reputation has preceded me. His employer, Lady Attana of Ide, wishes to hire me for protection on the road to Hallow’s Well. My reputation has preceded me, but which reputation has she heard of? The one where I’m skilled with a sword, or the one where I’m skilled in the bedroom, or the new one where I’m skilled at letting evil warlocks steal ancient tomes of evil? What the hell, money is money. On the road we’re attacked by bandits, almost like clockwork. After the first brigand goes down, out comes someone wearing an iron mask and some iron gauntlets and a glowing sword. Okay, a tough fight… except then the bandits all run away after I stab him a couple of times. “Come back and fight!” I shout. “I want that magic sword!”

It turns out they made off with my new employer’s jewellery box, but she says if I ever find it I can keep the contents and just drop the box off. That’s… rather generous, if weird. At Hallow’s Well I accept the noblewoman’s offer of an all expenses paid night in a five star inn and win the storytelling contest, recounting the tale of that dashing and beautiful woman who killed the resurrected necromancer Razaak. They all agree it’s a really good tale, if completely unbelievable that anyone could actually survive such a quest. Later that night, my dreams are disturbed by the sign out the front of the inn reassuring me that it’s on my side. Thanks, sign, I’m sure you’ll be a valuable ally in a fight.

The next morning, my faith bolstered by the reassurances of a painted plank swinging in the breeze, I set off for the local healing well, to confront one of my oldest fears and the deadly nemesis of adventurers everywhere. I enter the chamber with trepidation, and silently breathe a sigh of relief. No stone-walled, pulley-bucketed pit of horror this well, just a spring flowing out of a boulder. The waters of this holy font turn out to be a supercharged healing potion, which is good because there’s absolutely nothing else going for me in this insane quest.

I then waste some time shopping in the local market, buying relics. I normally wouldn’t, but it seems carrying around a bagful of old junk of dubious provenance is the way to go in Ruddlestone these days. I also pick up a totally cool hunting falcon, and some more herbs. On my way out of the town I come across a plague-ridden man and help him on his way, oblivious to the risk to myself. Apparently his village was attacked by an evil Pied Piper. Then, I come across the evil piper himself! That’s awfully convenient, actually. He tries to set his pet rat on me, but I catch it and throw it down, and then crush it underfoot in a display of sadistic animal cruelty that I excuse by telling myself it was an evil rat of chaos. This makes the Plaguey Piper mad and the fight is on! Unfortunately, I find out afterwards that killing evil warlock plague pipers is a crime in Hallow’s Well. Bloody ungrateful town. I put up a good fight, but get dragged off to the local jail.

I’m thrown in a cell with the standard decrepit raving lunatic, who naturally has a key to the door. He’s cleverly figured out that a raving madman locked up in jail gets free food and a roof over his head, and thus is going to stay and keep the act up. On my way out, a pretty young woman who also happens to be an apprentice witch begs me to set her free. She’s seen the error of her wicked ways, and she shows her appreciation by giving me a jar of magic powder that will mess up her former mentor’s shape-shifting magic, just on the off chance I run into her. “Say, why don’t you come with me?” I suggest. “Fuck that,” she replies. “You’re an adventurer. You’ll drag me down the first dingy ruin you find and get me killed.”

I can’t argue with that, and so we part ways. I sneak out of the south gate. Alas, I can’t make it to the plague-ridden town of Aryll before night falls. I wander into the hills to look for a suitable campsite, and find a cave. The hypnotic power of the cave draws me close, and I notice a round door. This is too much like a dungeon to pass up, and I approach the door with excitement. Alas, it’s just an underground house, inhabited by a mole person. Who was expecting me. Apparently Talpas here is an expert at runes, and he offers to cast the runes for me. All right then. This turns out to be a really bad idea, since one of the stones comes up with the rune of Shekka, and he doesn’t even have that runestone. Oh dear, I broke his magic rocks. He’s still kind enough to give me some of his mole person food, which turns out to be a bag full of grubs and worms. They’re probably good for me, right?

At Aryll I offer to help out with their plague rat problem using the evil piper’s magic flute. The rats all line up and conga into the barn, which the villagers set on fire… while I’m inside. I couldn’t have thought of a better plan myself if I tried. After I leap from the hayloft and roll around on the ground to put the flames out, they mention there’s a dirty great plague monster under their hill. Normally I’d laugh at them for asking me to fight a plague monster and beat a quick path out of town, but since the plague monster is in a dungeon, I can’t wait to get down there and get infected with leprosy. First, a giant rat, riddled with disease. Easy! Then, some equally plaguey zombies. Ho hum. Then a room filled with maggots and a swarm of evil flies. No problem! Then it’s a crypt with a dozen zombies. Uh oh… No! Only one zombie is coming for me! I make quick work of it, and then take on the festering blob of slime and pus and fungus and mould and rotting flesh that was once a living human servant of the gods of evil. Let’s go, you disgusting blob of shit.

Normally this would be a dangerous fight, but I’m armed with the medieval equivalent of a Molotov cocktail: I throw my lantern at it and then fuck it right up while it’s lurching around screaming. That’s how adventurers get shit done: we do it in dungeons.

The people of Aryll are overjoyed that they managed to find an armed and dangerous lunatic, and so I’m loaded down with some gold and some food and also told where to find the local hero’s barrow, so I can nick his magic sword. Barrow… underground burial chamber… crypt… I’m going straight there. I gulp down the magical waters of healing I’m carrying to ward off the plague for good, and then trek to the barrow. Right in front of it is a circle of standing stones, which means druids.

Druids are usually okay, but these ones want me to undergo some tests before I can enter the barrow. Worse, they are obsessed with number puzzles. Bastards. I spend several hours doing magic squares with a stick on the ground before I am finally allowed into the tomb. I slay the undead tomb guardian, loot some sarcophagi, and finally find the central chamber… and the magic sword is gone. What. The. Fuck. I decide to take the magic shield, and then storm out of the barrow to give the head druid a piece of my mind, but they’ve all run away. Probably when they heard me coming, cursing as I came.

I head north-west into the forest, and am ambushed by bandits. A woman in the trees tells me to throw down my gold. I do so, with the intention of taking her hostage. This accomplished, I realise I may have a slight problem. There are quite a few other bandits. I manage to dispatch two using their leader as a shield, and then knock out another, and finally get down to fighting the rest in a more fair battle than I’d like. The leader, last to engage, offers up information on the person she works for… Who sounds suspiciously like the bandit I met at the start of my quest. I trek stealthily through the forest, and find the secret bandit camp, which is quite nifty, being in the ruins of a walled outpost. They have stables, and a small keep, and – I shudder – a well. I light a haycart on fire and run into the keep, kicking in a handy door and finding the clown who ran away from me outside Hallow’s Well. “I told you I’d have that sword!” I shout, and attack him. With the masked brigand dead, I notice that his sword is actually the mythical one that was missing from the barrow I was in earlier. I kick the corpse a bit to vent my frustration, look around for the box that noblewoman wanted returned, and get out of there.

At the town of Fenford, I chat to a local friar who tells me I’m going to have to go on a romp in the local swamp to find out how to reseal the casket if Nazek has opened it. I sigh and turn to the visiting witch hunter, who is more than a little obsessed. I figure teaming up with his band of witch-hunting lunatics is my best bet though, and agree to meet him after I’ve gone into the marshland. He gives me some shackles to use on any witches I find. Yeah, I’m sure they’ll agree to that. The marshland is a stinking, damp, foggy maze. I wish I had some means of finding my way properly, say… a magic ring that lets me always know where north is. One of those would be really useful right now. As it is, I blunder about until I find a toad person who probably knows the way out of here. It turns out he’s a herbalist, and will mix up a couple of potions for me. I opt for the one that will fireproof me, and the healing potion.

Then I take a trip to the tomb of Enthus the Martyr, who sealed up that casket full of demons all those centuries ago. It’s not a very exciting tomb, so I summon up the priest’s ghost, and he gives me the rundown on how to reseal the chest of demons. Of course, in the middle of this a revenant animates the bones of the priest, which livens things up a little. I’m not impressed though, since it’s just a skeleton with a fancy name. I grab the page from the Black Grimoire with the sealing spell while I’m there, and get ferried out of the marsh, finally setting foot on dry land near the village of Selwick.

Selwick is all shut up for the evening, but I find some hospitality at a farm. Unfortunately the farm has been cursed. I skewer an imp while the family explain to me that the local witch, Mistress Crowfoot, has cursed them. Oh, for pity’s sake. Fine. I go off to kill the witch. She’s one of those witches who doesn’t believe in subtlety, having a house on bird feet. Or rather, foot. Giant crow feet are too expensive in Ruddlestone, so she’s only got one. But it’s a pretty good bird-legged cottage, because it hops forward to attack me. I can see the tale of my exploits now: “…and so the valiant heroine, armed as she was with a magical sword and magical shield, didst go into battle against the hopping cottage. Verily, a mighty fray ensued, though afterwards she was a little hazy on how the single giant crow foot could even attack.”

Inside the most ridiculous house ever, the place is crawling with pets, which just fucking figures. I liberally throw around that magic powder and then shackle the witch. There, all done. Except I forgot to gag her, and so she orders her familiars to attack. At least the toad is rather easy to kill. I also have my falcon bring down her raven, and make a bad reference to a famous poem as it does so. I demand to know where to find the Black Grimoire, and then turn Mistress Crowfoot over to the authorities to stand trial.

I travel onward, wondering what stupidity will be at the next town. It turns out it’s a woman about to be burnt at the stake by a witch finder. According to an old woman, the so-called witch is innocent. I quickly drink my potion of fireproofing in case I’m going to have to, say, rescue someone from a fire. “Stop this madness!” I say. “Witch!” says the witch finder. I probably should have seen that one coming. I’m subsequently thrown in the pond and manage to stay underwater for the requisite three minutes. Then I have to haul a horseshoe out of a brazier. Good thing I drank that potion, then. The witch finder is, of course, possessed by a demon, so I take great pleasure in cutting it out of him. The villagers all look suitably embarrassed about the fact they nearly burned the town healer on the say-so of an eldritch fiend.

Onward, to Claybury. I find the paranoid witch hunter clubhouse, and get attacked by a demonic stalker that only I can see. The resistance – they are the sort of people who always have to be lashing out against oppressive authority figures even when they are the authority figures – then run off with me to the ruined monastery where the Ruddlestone witch convention is conducting the dark ritual to open the chest of demons. When we get there, sneaking into the crypt under the monastery, Nazek is reading from the book, with a horde of witches and devils straight out of a lurid woodcut chanting away. Time to carve a chunk out of this coven.

I battle my way across the chamber, only to get to the casket as Nazek completes his spell. A ginormous demon rises from the tiny box. I quickly rattle off the spell of locking, and the casket is sealed once more… with the huge demon still outside it. Well, shit. I draw my sword and leap into battle. Despite the demon being five metres tall and having the ability to hit me with its spiky tail, I cut it into pieces. “That,” I shout at Nazek, “is why you don’t carry out evil plans underground!” He responds by summoning a horde of spiders all over me, and they bite me repeatedly, and I die thinking it was a shame I didn’t have the ingredients for that poison cure.


A Skill 8 Stamina 9 demon with a special ability in paragraph 1. Bloody hell. The whole book is insanely difficult. About halfway through a third attempt I suddenly got incredibly bored, since the second try had ended with my death because I failed a die roll earlier in the book, and every time I was presented with a choice I was wondering what essential item I missed out on. In the end I decided that it might be easier to just cheat, and went for the victory that way, retconning in the falcon and the jail sequence since failing to kill the witch and her raven leads to instant death later. Of course, since I had no idea where two of the ingredients for the venom cure were, I couldn’t justify pretending I’d picked them up.

Faith points… bloody hell. You need to grab every one you can get and even then the whole book comes down to some die rolls. To get the super healing water you have to win a faith check, and to be certain of that you have to win a previous faith check, which at that point is a 50% chance (also a 50% chance of dying in the witch trial, so the odds of winning are down to 25% right there). To buy the falcon you need x gold, and tht means rolling high at the start of the book, since you need those relics. I grabbed everything I could and just scraped 13 faith points together – which is the amount you need to guarantee winning at the second to last paragraph in the book.

On the setting front, it’s a tour of part of Ruddlestone, probably the most credulously superstitious land in the Fighting Fantasy books. The country comes off as a very fun dark medieval setting, working in more than a couple of old legends (the Lambton Worm, the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and a nod to Baba Yaga were ones I found while trying to win the book). There’s also a horde of warrior-women at the end, which was good to see, since up until then the book had been full of damsels in distress and stereotypical witches everywhere. Exploring a new setting is fun, but I suppose it would be more fun if I had bought the book instead of raiding the library. Then I could have interspersed the attempts with other books and not gotten bored.

I did not take a single scratch doing that plague dungeon – both times. How ridiculously lucky is that?

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: Why do the people of Hallow’s Well let a bunch of sadistic cultists wander around murdering people?

Ridiculous Battle: The Devilworm, where you have to fight for seven rounds at a penalty of -1 without being able to damage it, then fight it to the death at a pentalty of -2, and if you roll doubles you instantly die. Fuck. That. Thankfully, you don’t have to ever go there.

Victory: You stab Nazek, the skies which have been cloudy for a week clear, and the text says you imagine resting up for a few days, going back to the abbey, and then someone writing a book about it all.

What Was I Thinking? Trying to take the most direct route the first time I read thought the book. Of course it’s going to be convoluted, what would the point be otherwise?

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