Wednesday, 1 August 2012

For Fear of Little Men

The Forest of Doom (which shed its 'The' like autumn leaves when Wizard Books brought FF back) was another gamebook that I initially borrowed. On my first try I started well, gaining the first part of the hammer I sought without difficulty, but I just tended to keep going north as much as I could, causing me to miss out on everything else I needed to find. But I did get to fight a Forest Giant, and suffered a mildly surreal attack from a cloud (on Titan, meteorological phenomena are often out to get you). Given that the book provides an opportunity to return to the start and try again, I may have succeeded on my second pass through the forest, but I don't remember for sure.

In this book my character is an itinerant adventurer (though Murray makes a compelling and hilarious argument for the hero's being a homicidal maniac), at a bit of a loose end until a dying Dwarf named Bigleg blunders into my camp and deliriously recapitulates incidents from his recent past before dropping his quest in my lap. Reading between the lines, it would appear that his home village is so riddled with factionalism and in-fighting that even the threat of invasion by Trolls is not sufficient to get them working together to defend themselves. Somehow this disunity would be dispelled by a hammer (a specific one, not just any old hammer) which has been lost in Darkwood Forest.

Neither of these will do.

Bigleg was part of a group that managed to bury their differences for long enough to head off in search of the hammer, but they were ambushed by 'little people' (and remember, this is a Dwarf speaking, so their attackers must have been tiny). So Bigleg gives me his gold and his unhelpful map, and hints at a substantial reward if I should succeed where he failed. Is it likely?
Skill: 10
Stamina: 18
Luck: 9
Certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility.

Following Bigleg's advice, I start by visiting the wizard Yaztromo, vendor of magical items, qualified expositor, authorised to end your adventure here if you're a belligerent moron. He somehow knows that the hammer is now in two parts, the head being detachable because it makes for a trickier quest, and both parts of the hammer were in the possession of Goblins the last time he peeked at Ian Livingstone's notes. I spend just over half of Bigleg's cash on magical gadgets that will or may be of use, and set off into the forest.

At a junction with a signpost that tells me the northward path leads north, while the one to the east goes east (frustratingly, it doesn't say which way the west one goes, though I can make an educated guess), I meet a talking crow, who offers me advice in return for one gold piece. I know the book well enough that I don't need his help, but pay up anyway, as it's for a good cause.

Following the crow's advice, I soon encounter a pair of Hobgoblins. Not regular Goblins, so this doesn't mark a rapid conclusion to my search. Just to their lives. Their possessions include a necklace made from mouse skulls, and two maggot-ridden biscuits, which I add to my inventory because I can, and to help set up a gag for later on.

Following a brief subterranean encounter with a Sting Worm (the sting doesn't do any special damage), I check out a cave inhabited by an Ogre. A glove I bought from Yaztromo enables me to bounce a rock off the Ogre's cranium with a satisfying 'clonk!', so I can release the Goblin (non-Hob) that he's keeping in a cage for reasons I don't want to contemplate. Especially as the Goblin's response to being set free is to attack me. This is one of the Goblins I'm looking for, and he has the hammer handle on a rope around his neck.

Returning to the path, I blunder into one of those traps that leave the victim dangling from a tree branch by a rope around an ankle. Ian seems quite fond of these, as they crop up in a couple more of his books. It's not a difficult trap to escape from, though, so I'm soon on my way again.

Detouring up a vine to a tree-house, I encounter an inhospitable Ape-Man, and take a copper bracelet that does more than just cure rheumatism from him. Further on is a crossroads, with no signpost, but I know the way to go from here anyway. A couple of changes of direction later (one compulsory, one voluntary), I blunder into the path of a fox hunt. Or so it seems, but when I encounter the man who owns the hounds, I learn that it's actually a boar hunt gone wrong. The man gives me some belladonna because I 'might need' it, then rides off to try and find out what his dogs are chasing now.

I use an armband I bought from the wizard to cheat at an arm-wrestling match against a muscle-bound poseur, then partially retrace my footsteps and cross the river that runs through the forest by means of some stepping stones. It's getting dark, so I make camp for the night. Evidently I'm a very light sleeper, as 'the soft noise of fluttering wings' is enough to wake me in time that I can fight off some Vampire Bats that are looking for a midnight snack. I don't have the garlic that would repel them, but it strikes me as odd that it's classified as a magical item. Makes me wonder if there's been a bit of the old placebo effect going on with some of the other items, my successes having had nothing to do with the glove and the armband, but arising from the confidence I gained from the mistaken belief that my chances had been magically enhanced. I may be reporting old Yaztromo to Watchdog at the end of this adventure.

The following day I set off again, and am unsuccessfully ambushed by a couple of Wild Hill Men. Now, in a section I don't intend to reach on this playthrough, another such ambush occurs, accompanied by speculation that those are the attackers who did for Bigleg and friends. I'm not convinced, given the Dwarf's reference to 'little people' and the fact that the description of my current assailants says 'sinewy' and 'menacing' but not 'short'. Other denizens of the forest I don't anticipate encountering this time round include Pygmies and Gremlins, either of which would be better candidates. Or am I just putting way more thought into this aspect of the story than Ian ever did?

Regardless, my use of the phrase 'Bigleg and friends' above has led, via a brief chain of associations, to the mental image of an annoying purple dinosaur being felled with poison-tipped crossbow bolts, so it's been a productive tangent anyway.

I teach my ambushers a rather harsh lesson, and help myself to the silver key that one of them is carrying. Continuing on my way, I pass a dozing Gnome (technically another candidate for one of the 'little people', but not nearly homicidal enough to be a plausible one). Then I find a hut with no furniture other than a blue vase, which has something rattling around inside it. At first the vase's contents appear to be nothing but PAIN, but then I find some gold, a healing potion, and a tooth. From what I remember of alternate outcomes to this peculiar incident, there is at least potential for a malicious GM running the d20 adaptation of TFoD to turn a party of adventurers to paste here, assuming the module sticks with the book's explanation for the vase's more peculiar behaviour.

Further north I find another building, this one with a locked door that that silver key just happens to fit. After a few sections of 'you can leave now if you like' padding, I find what could be the remains of a Goblin, and a big stone box. Using my prize from the arm-wrestling contest, I raise the lid to reveal an animated corpse, which advances on me. And I should retract my suspicions regarding Yaztromo, as I don't see how the power of suggestion alone could cause water to inflict burns on a Ghoul, so the Holy Water I bought must be the genuine article. The stone coffin contains more money and the head of the hammer I seek, which the Ghoul was using as a head rest. Apparently the undead can suffer from stiff necks just like anybody else. Maybe they wouldn't be so hostile towards the living if they could get a decent massage every now and then.

Now that I have what I came for, there's no need to go rummaging around in the beasts's lair I spot on my way to the forest's exit. I rummage anyway, and dodge a blast of fiery breath from a territorial Wyvern. An irrational compulsion leads to the convenient discovery that one of the objects I picked up on my way through the forest has a tranquilising effect on Wyverns, so I can grab the shiny things that this one has been hoarding. One of them makes me a better fighter, as if Ian wants to give me a fair chance in the epic battle that doubtless stands between me and victory.

So, the big climax. Five thugs (none of them with a Skill above 8, as I recall) demand payment for trespassing on their turf, or else. I give them two maggot-ridden biscuits, a necklace of mouse skulls, a sprig of deadly nightshade, and a tooth. They are satisfied with these 'treasures' and let me go. Just imagine how spectacular that would appear if Peter Jackson or Zack Snyder were to adapt it for cinema.

Somehow I survive that gruelling encounter and make it as far as the Dwarven village, where I hand over the hammer and am rewarded with vast quantities of loot. Hurrah, I suppose.

The Forest of Doom is a significant book in terms of world-building, introducing characters and locations that would turn up in later FF adventures, and it's one of the few penned by Ian Livingstone in which a character with below average stats actually has a chance of winning, but it's not one of the highlights of the range. Even in the eighties, I wasn't that impressed, though that had a lot more to do with the very limited selection of juicy Instant Deaths than awareness of more significant flaws.

That's four victories in a row. I think it's time to take another step into unfamiliar territory with my next book.

1 comment:

  1. Definitely one of my least favourite books in the series. The only (somewhat) interesting part of the book was the subterranean lair of the Fire Demon and his fungi-tending Slaves, and even that was barely touched upon.