Saturday, 21 January 2012

Resurrection of the Dead by Alexander Ballingall

Today, I'll be turning my eye on Resurrection of the Dead, a 200 paragraph adventure written and illustrated by Alexander Ballingall which first appeared in the first Fighting Fantazine magazine back in September 2009.  If you do not know about or have not read Fighting Fantazine, then I urge you to do so now.  Not just number 1, but all of them.

As well as writing Fighting Fantasy adventures, Alex is the founder, editor of and contributor to Fighting Fantazine, writer of its blog and is also the founder a massive contributor to (thankyou, Paltogue) Titannica, the Fighting Fantasy wiki.  He is also a prominent contributor to the unofficial Fighting Fantasy forum and the Titan Rebuilding yahoo group .

In Resurrection of the Dead, you are a retired adventurer turned merchant who returns home to hear of strange goings on which have driven your friend, Karl, mad.  Your investigations uncover plenty of foul deeds as you have to inspect every corner of the town from the monastery to the thieves' guild to the heath.  The solution is elusive and it will take a few goes to work out the correct path to victory or even work out what you need to do to achieve victory, making the adventure a satisfying challenge.


The setting for this book the Old World where some familiar sorcery may make an appearance. The adventure takes place in a town with undead crawling around in the darker, more hidden corners.  It is not safe to just wander around.  There are plenty of characters to interact with from monks to thieves (Vannix 'sticky fingers' gets a shout out here for helpfulness and having an amusing nickname).  Alex has a very in depth knowledge of the Old World (who knew about the Dryaden race?) and there a plenty of Titan references in the book.



Alex has included illustrations from full page pictures to small pictures between paragraphs.  The illustrations are clear and cover the essential elements of the creature or item that appears in the picture.  I particularly like the flesh golem.



The book provides you with plenty of options and plenty of places to explore.  There are also a few secret places which you need to discover in order to achieve victory.  You also need to pay careful attention to the information that people give to you as it will help you win.

I enjoyed the challenge of working out how to win, but there are a few unavoidable difficult combats for anyone who does not have a skill of 11+, especially since you do not start with a weapon.  There is also a fight with the six parts of a living corpse which can get tedious as they all have low skills and you have to roll a die to see which one you hit rather than choose your target.  That battle could go on for some time.  There might be some 'ignore the combat' activity needed to actually get to the final paragraph.



The descriptions and the interactions are good and well thought out.  Most of the characters in the book see you as a merchant and treat you with disdain for your investigations, especially since you have no weapon to start with.  There are some good details dropped in (Titan references and the relationships between yourself and the other characters).



The rules are the standard Fighting Fantasy rules - you have skill, stamina and luck and provisions restore 4 stamina points.  If you fight unarmed, you have a -3 penalty to skill.  You will have a character ready in seconds.  There are no other scores to keep track of or instructions that involve you rolling lots of dice.  Everything is nice and straightforward.


Total 17/25

Resurrection of the Dead is an engaging and challenging adventure written by someone who knows Fighting Fantasy like the back of their hand.  You may need to fudge a few dice rolls to finally win, but it is satisfying to work out what the path to victory actually is.  In tiger terms, there is plenty here to get your teeth into, but some of the bits might be too tough to chew up without some help (i.e the combats) so they might need to be skipped.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Zork 1: The Forces of Krill by S. Eric Meretzky

Zork 1: The Forces of Krill by S. Eric Meretzky is the first in a series of three Zork Adventures published by Puffin Books in 1984 under license from Infocom (and published earlier in 1983 in the USA by Tom Doherty). Curiously, there is absolutely no overt mention that the book is based on a successful series of text adventure computer games. Being an avid player of the initial Zork trilogy I knew this link however, but for some reason never deigned to play these gamebooks when they came out. Partly then, this review is an attempt to find out why I avoided Zork Adventures in favour of other series when I was younger...

Theme - 2/5

In essence, two kids from our world find the Sword of Zork in the bushes behind their school and are transported to the land of Frobozz, now under attack by the armies of the uber-bad Krill. To defeat the forces of evil they must locate the three Spheres of Power, which, curiously, are called Palantirs inside the book. This Palantir reference highlights other LOTR influences, such as the names Aragain and Ellron, but makes them look somewhat incongruous alongside Zork stalwarts such as Frobozz and Dimwit Flathead. There are plenty of references to Zork 1, including “an ancient sword of Elvish workmanship”, “a battery-powered brass lantern”, and even “a white boarded up house in a large clearing in the woods” and a fragment of “the Great Underground Empire”, both of which you get to explore. There’s also a couple of chances to be devoured by grues (though a text description of them remains elusive, as per Jack Vance’s original creatures), and, thanks to the anti-cheat section on page 124, I now know the Patron God of Decision Novels (and presumably Gamebooks) is Vindictus, who has the power to reach out of a gamebook and turn all cheaters into hideous toads (hasn’t happened to me yet!).
What gnomes look like in the world of Zork

Illustrations - 2/5

I like the cover illustration by Phil Parks, but it’s completely wrong: Krill is some sort of inhuman demon, not a human wizard; and his sophisticated saurian guards are at odds with the brutal drooling lizard creatures frequently encountered inside the book. Paul Van Munching’s internal art isn’t as good as his awesome-sounding name, and for example, on pages 67 and 76 we get Bilbo Baggins the Hobbit instead of a generic anonymous gnome. Page 57 frustratingly reneges on the promise of showing us what grues actually look like, although this is made up for by the cool map on page 61, which includes “Known Grue Lairs”! 

Gameplay - 1/5

The structure of The Forces of Krill is that of simple branching paragraphs, usually with only two choices. One choice almost always leads to some variation of hideous instant death, but this is leavened by providing the reader with a points score out of ten rating their progress so far, and an invitation to return to the page where they last screwed up and try the other choice. A couple of times there are very broad, heavily-telegraphed hints as to a future choice you must make. Curiously, on one of the few pages you get to make three choices, one option is instant death (forewarned by a hint), one option is technically correct (but wrong if you choose it immediately), and the final choice shifts to a scenario only knowable by those who have actually played the Zork 1 text adventure game.

A map of the Great Underground Empire

 Exposition - 2/5

The writing is serviceable and workman-like but offers no indication the author would later hook-up with no less a talent than Douglas Adams himself to write the Infocom text adventure version of The Hitch-hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. In particular, the segue from school kids Bill and June into fantasy peasants Bivotar and Juranda is handled weirdly and abruptly, begging the question whether the tenuous link between Zork and the real world was ever really necessary. In addition, some sections look like they have been copied verbatim from the Zork 1 text adventure. While this does provide a certain joy of recognition, it also results in strange info-dumps, as when Juranda says: “It’s supposed to be the greatest engineering feat in the history of the Great Underground Empire, designed by Lord Dimwit Flathead himself”, when there’s no possible way she could know this unless her alter ego June was putting in the hard yards playing Zork 1 at home.

Rules - 1/5

There’s no rules system to speak of, though at a couple of points you are asked if you possess certain items. One of these leads to the previously mentioned anti-cheat section at page 124. Page 88 shows you four different buttons for controlling Flood Control Dam #3 but doesn’t do anything as radical as actually letting you choose which one(s) to press.
These are buttons but you can't choose which one to press.

Total 8/25

Not quite leftovers but better than carrion, The Forces of Krill is really only of interest to the serious gamebook historian or collector, or if you have a soft spot for the old Zork adventure games. Certainly, I won’t be actively seeking out subsequent adventures in the series, such as The Malifestro Quest or The Cavern of Doom, but if I saw them going cheap in a second-hand book shop I’d probably buy them just to check if they could improve on The Forces of Krill. I can however see why my younger self never read them beyond a brief scan, and, unfortunately, it’s because they’re not very good.

Carrion? Leftovers? Pah! Make up your mind!