The Chasm of Doom

The Chasm of Doom – Conclusion

Well, every fantasy series has to have their own ‘Chasm of Doom’, don’t they?  The Rift, the lava pit at Mount Doom (along with the depths of Moria), the massive drop from the top of Rak Cthol etc etc.

Giving Lone Wolf travelling companions at the start of (or during, for that matter) the adventure, by Book 4, is starting to be a clear signal that, before too long, Lone Wolf will be travelling by himself.

Bet then, I suppose the first part of our hero’s name should be enough of a warning regarding his intentions, after all.

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Back to the book.  Like a number of Lone Wolf books, this is broken up into a series of fairly distinct sections.  There is first the (comparatively) peaceful trip south, protected by your loyal rangers.  There is then the more frantic dash towards Ruanon, either cross-country or through the mines.  After the frenetic battle at Ruanon, Lone Wolf must then navigate the final endgame to the Maakengorge.

Although making some provision for individual choices and preferences, there is still a strong flavour of a ‘story’ to Lone Wolf’s adventure, with distinct ‘acts’ and a strong conclusion.  It is surely not coincidence that it is this series of gamebooks which has translated into a fairly lengthy series of novels, known as the Legends of Lone Wolf.

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As usual with these books, a significant strength is in the writing, as well as the gameplay. There is a distinct sense of ‘place’ permeating through the different books, as Mr Dever clearly takes pride in giving a sense of the protagonist travelling through snow, wildlands, cities, wilderness, mines and so forth.  This can be favourably contrasted with the anodyne ‘dungeon crawls’ in a number of other gamebooks.  (This is so pronounced that the setting of Fighting Fantasy book 12, Space Assassin, was infamously changed from a dungeon crawl to a spaceship mission without having to significantly alter the text).

As stated with regard to previous books, the existence of the Sommerswerd still have a worrying effect on combat difficulty.  Having to craft a book which would be interesting for players (theoretically) with Combat Skills ranging from 10 all the way through to 30 would be a task beyond almost all writers, and so it proves here.  In my playthrough, Lone Wolf was never serious tested in any of the fights, and I think lost no more than about half-a-dozen Endurance points.

 

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Given my statistical advantage, my only real worry was ensuring that I could avoid so-called ‘insta-deaths’.  I can say unequivocally that, if it were not for my previous knowledge of the book, I would have (literally) fallen head-first into the cellar trap in the latter stages of the book.  Indeed, I would categorise this trap as unfair, in that there was no indication (in the text) whatsoever that the choice in question would lead to any danger or risk at all, let alone a death with no chance of survival.  This is true not only on a meta-level, but (in addition) the inconsistent application of Sixth Sense is applicable here, since you would expect that it (Sixth Sense) would warn Lone Wolf of such a risk.  Mind Over Matter would presumably also be helpful to either open the trap-door or create a diversion.

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Each of the five books that comprise the initial ‘Kai’ series have their own distinct setting and ‘hook’.  There is the ‘dash to the capital’ of Book 1, the epic adventure to retrieve the Sommerswerd in Book 2, the arctic wanderings of Book 3 and the countryside stroll (!) of Book 4.  The desert scramble of Book 5 is for future days.

One aspect of the series (with this book being a prime example) that is well-crafted (if frustrating in a good way) is the combination of (1) strict restrictions on the number of items which can be carried and (2) a significant number of items which are either completely unuseful or only become useful in limited circumstances.

For instance, there was no real indication that the Holy Water which ended up being crucial to finishing off the final villain would be helpful at all, apart from general gamebook experience.  By contrast, I was slightly panicked about which pieces of mining equipment to take, and whether other paraphernalia would be of use.  The need to retain Meals and Healing material made the choices doubly difficult.

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Unless  my memory fails me, the difficulties in this regard become even more pronounced in future books, when restrictions on Special Items are also implemented.

In summary, a well-written and crafted book, with the only (minor) quibbles being the problems caused by the Sommerswerd’s existence, and one or more ‘insta-deaths’ that struck me as unfair and without warning.

Next – Bring on the desert, and the Book of the Magnakai!

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12 thoughts on “The Chasm of Doom – Conclusion

  1. This might be something you previously wrote and I’m mis-remembering it as my own idea, but you could have fights be tougher to test the Megasword-wielding hero spoiling for a fight, while letting Lone Wolves without the Mega and bad die-rolling luck get around the fights with wise Kai skill choices and decisions.

    As awesomely-horrific as the cellar instadeath was, you make a good point about having the hero have some way to spot it, if they can’t use their Kai skills to escape. Giving some example in the text that, say, the owner of the cabin secretly sides with the Darklords. Going back to the tattoo on the priest’s wrist in Book 2 that marked him as a Darklord agent, you could do that again with a picture of cabin’s interior. Maybe something that matches one of the banners of the enemy you had already seen. Or even just a spooky-looking scene could set off the “Let’s get outta here!” receptors in the brain. Now I’m flashing back to a book I read as a child (say mid-’80s). A group of kids were out solving a mystery, and each page turn would have text with the kids trying to find a clue or a solution to a problem, with a full-page illustration allowing the reader to find it themselves. For example, the kids are trying to find a way into a house with a locked door and open window with bars on it. They see the key inside on a hook, and the text essentially asks the reader to figure out how the kids get inside. Turn the page, you read that the kids had used the rake that was clearly seen in the previous picture to get the key off the hook and through the window. It was pretty ingenious, and I have to see if I can find it again despite not remembering a title or other details.

    I have a box with a bunch of Fighting Fantasy books I got off Ebay 𝐲𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐬 ago. I checked, and yes, Starship Traveller was among them. I felt your description of them changing from a fantasy dungeon crawl to a spaceship both insulted the interchangibility of the scenario and complimented the authors on their ingenuity. I may have to read it someday, but I still never got around to finishing Creature of Havoc. Which I immediately recognized on your Twitter post about the -3 stamina wound suffered 𝑖𝑛 𝑡𝑕𝑒 𝑚𝑖𝑑𝑑𝑙𝑒 𝑜𝑓 𝑎𝑛 𝑖𝑛𝑠𝑡𝑎𝑑𝑒𝑎𝑡𝑕. (using txtn.us to italicize text doesn’t work on h’s, huh). That really was badass. If you have 3 or less stamina, do you have to stop reading? Try to get the section again with 4+ stamina to actually experience the instadeath?

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    1. The book that was changed from a dungeon crawl to a spaceship was not Starship Traveller (Book 4), but was Space Assassin (Book 12).

      I know the type of book you are referencing. I don’t think its the same series, but I remember the Hawkeye & Amy solve-it-yourself mysteries, where one character would draw a sketch (shown to the reader) and Amy / the reader would use that to solve the mystery.

      Really appreciate the comments and hope you continue to enjoy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re right, I misremembered the title but got #12 right. I looked in my old FF box of books, and I have #4 as well. The Hawkeye & Amy series sounds like something I would have loved. I don’t remember reading the books, but they did have a comic strip I might have seen, that ran for a short time (hard to crank out weekly mysteries). They’d build up the mystery for five days, showing Hawkeye’s sketch on Friday, then give the solution Saturday, which could only be read in a mirror.

        ***Spoilers***

        Very much looking forward to Shadow on the Sands, which had some truly memorable parts. The incredible betrayal where your escort had schemed to hand you over for execution shouldn’t have been that surprising, what with the traitors and enemy agents we’d already met, but it was. And the prospect of death in the books didn’t frighten me, because I wouldn’t have to fight Darklords in real life. But the idea of getting an infection and facing possible amputation unless you got the proper medical attention, that did get to me.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. In fairness T-man, the hut was in a forest crawling with bandits and had a bandit waiting in ambush in it (clarify that, had a bandit who attacked from ambush and another who waited until you enteted the basement). I feel the problem isn’t that there was an ambush but that it was an instant death one.

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    3. The book you mention could have been The Adventures of the black Hand Gang by Hans Jürgen Press.

      Sixth Sense is annoyingly inconsistent in the books. I had a bit of a rant about it when I played The Kingdoms of Terror for my blog (spoilers for book 6).

      Creature of Havoc wasn’t the first FF book to include Stamina loss in a failure section – one in Sword of the Samurai inflicts 7 damage before pointing out that, even if you survive, your adventure is over.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes! I believe you’re right. I checked Google images, and while I didn’t see the example I gave, I found one I remember. The kids could tell an abandoned house now had someone living in it, because there was smoke coming out the chimney (and I nailed it as a kid). Thank you! Also, Sword of the Samurai is also in my FF box of books, so I need to check that one out, too.

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  2. Good summary of the book. While you’re playing honestly I think most readers/players who enter the basement would read the chilling text, go “Ooo, I have to stop the undead”, and promptly go back to the hut and leave even more determined to stop the sacrifice. This is pure speculation but as it was Dever’s fourth book by this stage I’d say he had a feel for how fans played by now and in fairness flavour text like that has stuck with me for over thirty years (and I NEVER enter basements in huts I find in the woods which proves it taught a valuable lesson), right bummer for the honest though.

    Btw, I loved Space Assassin, apart from the constant niggle that I was technically a murderer who just happened to be going the right direction for once. Next some fun in the sand.

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    1. With respect, Fenrir, I think your commentary goes towards the unfairness of the ‘insta-death’. If the player falls after a genuine mistake, or a hard-fought battle, there is a determination to ‘beat it this time’. When there is a random death, the inclination is to ignore this path as somehow ‘illegitimate’.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well yes, I didn’t mean people replay up to the bit where they’re in the hut and then take a different choice, I meant they, by which I mean me, don’t count it as a legitimate death and carry on the adventure. Looking back I view it as more of an adding of editorial spice than offering realistic options … partly because the alternative is to get SEVERELY p’d off at the arbritariness of the author. My own opinion.

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      2. No, Fenrir, I was agreeing with you all along! I meant that :
        – When people feel a death is ‘fair’, they replay the book from the start to get the satisfaction of ‘defeating’ the obstacle.
        – When people feel a death is arbitrary then, as you say, they simply ‘bleep’ past it and continue on.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I’ve read a few gamebooks that (with an in-game rationalisation based on prophecy or premonition or something along those lines) actually allow the player (once per game) to go, ‘Nope, don’t like that outcome!’, turn back to the previous section and make a different choice. Quite a neat way of handling things – though not having unfair and arbitrary Instant Deaths would still be preferable.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. The cellar instadeath was a bit unfair. Another that you remembered not to fall for is near the end where you can go to the balcony or to the room with “observation slits”. Many people feel the instadeath in the observation room is unfair too, but the slits are supposed to be a clue that maybe it’s you that will be observed instead of doing the observing if you go that way (though it would be very reasonable for you to go into the cavern with the slits in the hopes that you could use them to observe the goings on unseen). Also the player should reason that even if they can use the slits to observe, that they will also need access to the area of the sacrifice and thus the balcony affords a better opportunity to intervene.

    That one has a similarly creepy ending of “When the time comes for your cell door to open, it is the bony hand of a skeleton that turns the key.”

    I agree with those who say that the instadeaths really add to the atmosphere of the book. The vast majority of them throughout the series are very well done and add to the sense of urgency and the importance of the mission. Many of them do a great job of conveying that not only are you dead, but the world is now doomed.

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