Thursday, May 12, 2016

Caverns of the Snow Witch (preview) - Attempt 1


I realise that I've been stuck on Warlock magazine #2 for over a month now, but I have one more thing to cover before I'm done with it: Caverns of the Snow WitchCaverns of the Snow Witch will eventually be published as the ninth book in the main Fighting Fantasy series, and I'll be getting to that eventually.  But before it was expanded into a book it appeared as a short (190 paragraph) adventure in Warlock.  I'm not sure how this adventure was developed; was it intended to be a book, and included in Warlock to whet the appetites of the readers?  Or was it published in Warlock before Ian decided that since it was already half-written he might as well make some money off of it?  I suspect the latter, but it's impossible to know without asking the man himself.

At a glance it appears that there's little difference between the book and magazine versions.  The magazine covers about half the length of the book.  It also features different illustrations, by Duncan Smith of Scorpion Swamp fame.  I'm perhaps being overly thorough by covering this one,  but thoroughness is one of the goals of the blog.  No gamebooks left behind!

BACKGROUND
The hero begins the adventure as a caravan guard in the icy regions of northern Allansia.  This might be the most logical opening to an FF adventure yet.  Most adventurers in Allansia seem to just wander around aimlessly, but this guy has an actual job, and comes across as a functional human being.

During an expedition, the caravan comes across an outpost that has been destroyed, and its inhabitants slaughtered by some enormous creature.  Big Jim Sun, the caravan leader, asks the hero to hunt down the creature, and we're off to the races.  I'm not entirely sure that the reward of 50 gold pieces is worth it, but it's a living I guess.  Any adventurer willing to hire himself out for guard duty is probably a bit low on ambition.

Big Jim Sun

CHARACTER CREATION
This adventure uses the standard FF rules, so I can get straight into it.  I rolled a Skill of 12, a Stamina of 19, and a Luck of 7.  That Luck score is a worry, but I'm pretty sure I'll be able to compensate with a Potion of Fortune.  Hang on, wait!  There are no potions in this adventure!  And you only begin with five provisions!  This is going to be more difficult than I thought.

THE ADVENTURE
By the time I returned to the outpost, snow had covered the bodies and obscured the creature's tracks.  With nothing to guide me, I set off north towards the Icefinger Mountains.  After trudging through knee-deep snow for a while, I came to a crevasse that was spanned by an ice bridge.  Now, a wooden bridge I can get behind.  Stone I'm fine with.  An ice bridge?  Over a crevasse?  Bugger that for a game of soldiers.  I decided to leave the bridge and walk around.

The wind started to howl, and out of the snow came an enormous looming shape: a Mammoth!  It attacked me without provocation, and I had no choice but to fight it.  (Yep, this is an Ian Livingstone adventure all right.)  The Mammoth hit me once (reducing my Stamina to 17), but I was soon able to kill it and continue on.

I think Snuffleupagus got lost

It took about half an hour to reach the end of the crevasse, and I was then able to climb further up the mountains. The snow started falling harder, and I was pretty sure that this was the beginning of a blizzard.  Rather than press on I decided to dig myself a shelter, and in complete defiance of all logic I "hurriedly cut blocks of ice out of the mountainside and built a makeshift igloo".  With a sword.  This is some seriously hardcore shit.  If I ever get trapped in an arctic wilderness, I want Ian Livingstone there as my right-hand man.  Either he's the hardest man alive and he'll save my life, or I get the satisfaction of watching him freeze to death, a fitting punishment for having written Crypt of the Sorcerer. Either would be fine.

I sheltered in my igloo until the storm blew over, but I had to consume two of my provisions to regain my strength (without any addition to my stamina).

Further on I found a hut sheltered beneath an overhanging rock.  Footprints led away from the hut and up the side of the mountain, but I chose to ignore them for now and enter the hut.  Inside I found the belongings of a fur trapper, and some cold stew in a pan.  I put some logs on the fire and heated up the stew (restoring my Stamina back to 19).  As I was leaving I spotted some weapons under the bed: a warhammer and a spear.  I took them both with me and followed the footprints.

As I climbed higher, the air became thinner (reducing my Stamina to 18).  I heard the cries of a human mixed with a ferocious roar, and I ran to investigate.  A fur trapper was being menaced by a huge bear-like beast with vicious claws and teeth - a Yeti!

THE YETAY!  (One for the wrestling fans.)

Before attacking the beast I hurled my spear into its chest.  The creature was wounded but not killed, and I had to fight it with my sword.  It wounded me once (reducing my Stamina to 16) before I could kill it.

I went to the fur trapper's aid, but it was obvious that he would not survive his wounds.  With his dying words he told me about his search for the legendary Crystal Caves, where dwelt the evil Snow Witch and her followers.  She was apparently planning to use her magic to bring an ice age so that she could rule the world.  The entrance to the caves was hidden with an illusion, but only yesterday the trapper had found it, and marked it with a piece of fur.  He implored me to find and kill the Snow Witch, and as an incentive he mentioned the great treasures frozen into the walls of her domain.  Then he died, and I was left with a choice: return to Big Jim Sun with evidence of the Yeti's death to claim my reward, or undertake a dangerous adventure in the Crystal Caves?

Apparently there was no decision to be made, as I was too excited to pass up the prospect of further adventure.  I set off, looking for the entrance to the caves.  While searching I was almost caught in an avalanche, but a successful Luck test (reducing my score to 6) ensured that it passed me by harmlessly.

I soon found the entrance to the caves in a wall of ice and entered.  Predictably, the first thing I encountered was a T-junction.  I turned right.

The tunnel ended at a cavern.  In the centre of the cavern was a plinth of ice, bearing a bowl full of yellow liquid.  I took a drink, and was rewarded with a feeling of warmth: the liquid had been enchanted by the Snow Witch to protect her followers from the cold.  It restored my strength (returning my Stamina to 19), and would have cured frostbite in my sword arm if I had suffered any.  I returned to the junction and took the other path.

The tunnel turned to the right, and I bumped into a Mountain Elf wearing a hood and a collar around his neck.

Who does this arsehole think he is, Drizzt Do'urden?

I tried to give him a nod as I walked past, but a failed Luck test (reducing my score to 5) meant that he stopped me and asked why I wasn't wearing my obedience collar.  I replied that I had put on weight recently, and my collar was being widened (because how could I not choose such an absurd option?).  The Elf laughed at my joke, and was about to give me some information when he started screaming and clutching at his own collar.  Soon he was dead (which reduced my Luck to 4), and I decided to press on.  I got no time to cry over dead elves.

I came to a fork in the tunnel.  I could hear footsteps coming from the right, so I turned left to avoid them. Unluckily for me I fell in a pit trap (reducing my Stamina to 17), and even more unluckily two Goblins appeared at the top of the pit, intent on my capture.  They lowered a rope, and I had little choice but to climb out.  (I could have tried grabbing the rope and pulling them in, but I had a suspicion that this would leave me with no means of escape.)

Pretty handsome for a Goblin.

The Goblins motioned me forward with their daggers, but instead I decided to take them on bare-handed.  I was able to quickly subdue one goblin, but the other lunged forward and cut me with his dagger (the result of a failed Luck test, which reduced my Luck to 3).  With my Skill reduced by 3 due to lack of a weapon, the goblin was able to wound me again, and by the end of the fight my Stamina was 13.

Looting the goblins I found two daggers, some salted fish (no indication if this counts as a provision or not), a candle, and 2 gold pieces.

I decided to continue along the tunnel rather than retrace my steps, and it soon opened out into a large cavern.  There I saw two steaming pools, with a weapon protruding from each: a sword and a spear.  Against the wall was the frozen corpse of an orc, with its arm pointing at the sword.  There was also a rhyme carved into the floor:

"Sword or spear
Strength or fear
How to choose
Win or lose"

Say what you want about Duncan Smith, but his fidelity to the text is impeccable

All signs pointed to the sword as being the better option, so I pulled it forth.  It was a magical Sword of Speed, and I was able to add 1 Skill point.  (This is another example of poor implementation of the FF rules.  I would expect my prowess to be improved by wielding a Sword of Speed, but going by the rules it grants me no bonus whatsoever, as I can't improve my Skill beyond my initial level. I wonder how much of this is deliberate, and how much is Ian Livingstone cocking it up.)

I searched the Orc's backpack, and found a pair of sandals, a stuffed rat, and a loaf of mouldy bread. I decided to eat the bread, but when I broke it open I found an iron key inside (restoring my Luck to 4).  I thought better of eating the bread, and walked through the far tunnel.  (I didn't bother adding the sandals or the rat to my inventory, which may be akin to suicide in a Livingstone adventure.  I'm not sure what I was thinking.)

The tunnel turned right, and I came to a cave entrance from which I could hear music.  The entrance was partially covered by a tattered animal skin, but I could see a man's legs wearing green and purple hose and red slippers.

A contender for the most pointless gamebook illustration ever

I went inside, where I encountered a Minstrel. I asked him about his music, and he was so pleased that he played a song that healed my wounds (restoring my Stamina to 17). I thanked him and left.

In the distance I could hear chanting.  Soon the tunnel opened into a large cavern, where ten of the Snow Witch's followers (a mixture of Goblins, Orcs and Neanderthals) were kneeling in worship before the effigy of an ice demon.


I tried to cross the cavern without them noticing, but without an adequate disguise I was accosted and asked why I didn't stop to sing the praises of the Frozen One.  Without an adequate excuse, I decided to make a run for it.  One cracked his whip while another hurled a dart at me.  I failed my Luck test, and the whip wrapped around my legs and tripped me.  (I rolled an odd number on my failed Luck test. Had I rolled even, I would have been struck by the dart. Either way, my Luck was reduced to 3).

The followers picked me up and dragged me before the effigy.  Of course it came to life, and I found myself in battle with the Ice Demon.  It only wounded me once, but it also had an icy breath which it blasted me with quite a few times.  By the time I destroyed the Ice Demon my Stamina had been reduced to 10.  It's followers fled, in awe of my power, and I was able to restore my Luck to 4.

At the next junction I could hear cries for help coming from the left, so I went to investigate.  The tunnel ended at the edge of a deep pit.  At the bottom of the pit was a Dwarf, and from high above large boulders were being dropped on him by followers of the Snow Witch.


I reached down and helped the Dwarf to scramble out of the pit.  The Dwarf was quick to leave me, as he wanted to escape back to his village, but he left me with a sling and 3 iron balls.  He also shouted a cryptic message: "Beware the White Rat!"  Thanks a bunch, mate.

The next cavern had three path forward, one carved in the shape of a giant skull.  This looked ominous, so I quickly ate a meal (restoring my Stamina to 14, and leaving me with 2 provisions). As I finished eating, a man carrying a glass prism stepped out of the mouth of the skull.  He commanded me to turn back, as only the Snow Witch's personal servants were allowed any further.

Weird, it's like the man and the skull have the same haircut

I responded by drawing my sword.  The man sneered and rubbed his crystal, and suddenly there were three identical images of him before me.  I struck out at the one to the right, and was rewarded with a scream.  The false images faded away, but the man stood up and laughed, his wound completely healed.  My sword was obviously useless here, so I smashed his prism instead, and he ran fleeing back into the skull mouth.  The shattered fragments of the prism formed into a Genie, who rewarded me with the power to become invisible just once.

Normally I would pursue the wizard, but I was reluctant to enter the skull.  Instead I took the path to the right.  An iron grille crashed down behind me, and another blocked the far end of the passage.  I was trapped!  Behind the grille I could see a knob, which I figured must raise the grille.  I couldn't reach it with my sword, so I tried to throw a dagger at it.

Unfortunately, this was not a test of Skill but a test of Luck.  My Luck was 4, and I failed at both attempts.  I was trapped in the Crystal Caves, condemned to eventual capture and slavery.

THE POST-GAME
I was right about that low Luck score, as it turns out.  There's a genuine problem with the Luck system in Fighting Fantasy, I feel.  Once your score drops below a certain point, it becomes useless.  The Downward Luck Spiral, as I call it.  Whether you succeed or fail at Luck tests, your score always goes down, and it's rare that adventures grant enough Luck bonuses to balance this out.  Eventually you'll get to a point where every Luck test is a failure.  Without the Potion of Fortune it's even worse.  I've often thought that the system would be improved if your Luck went down on a successful Luck test, and up on a failed Luck test.  That's not the system, though, and I was done in by a low score from the outset.  I just have to hope for better rolls next time.

1 comment:

  1. You're completely right about 'The Downward Luck Spiral' – it's one of the most frustrating elements in the FF rules. I still remember playing this Warlock version as a teen, and rather enjoying it. The frozen landscape at least allowed for some different encounters.

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