Friday, 14 September 2012

Another in the Mesh

The Wizards, Warriors & You series didn't make much of an impact on me when it reached the UK. I saw the books in shops, even flicked through at least one (at the same Boots display stand where I first encountered Fighting Fantasy books 6 and 7, though on a different occasion), but didn't get interested enough to buy any of them. At least until I wound up owning half the series (half the British releases, that is - the American ones went on a lot longer) in circumstances I shall explain at a later date. But having three of the books changed my attitude sufficiently that when I came across a second-hand copy of the first one, R.L. Stine's The Forest of Twisted Dreams, I bought it. At a later date I parted copy with them all, but some time after that, a capricious search on eBay turned up a collection of all the WW&Y books I'd previously read, nostalgia prompted a bid, and nobody else wanted the books badly enough to outbid me.

This is a series in which characters don't have any stats, but there's still a random element and (potentially) a little inventory management. The random aspect comes in for a fair bit of criticism, because it does get arbitrary at times. Making success dependent upon a successful coin toss is one thing, but it gets a bit silly when the deciding factor is what number you think of, the day of the week or time of day when you're reading the book, or whether the cock crows three times before dawn and twelve hens lay addled eggs. Okay, not the last of those, but I do recall one instance where failure could result from having been born on the wrong day!

The principal gimmick is that these books have a duo of heroes - the Wizard and the Warrior - and the reader gets to play one of them and have the other as a partner. The Wizard, predictably, has a selection of spells to cast. The Warrior has access to an armoury, and gets to pick three of the weapons from it, in addition to the magic sword he carries by default. The basic plot is the same for both characters, but the manner in which it unfolds varies according to which the reader is playing.

In a romanticised medieval England, under the reign of a King Henry (number not specified), the Three Years' War (not the one in Nova Scotia) has recently ended. Celebrations are cut short when giants invade and steal the Magic Helmet of Cornwall, the main treasure acquired in the war. While the knights prepare for battle, the King summons the Wizard and the Warrior and sends them on a commando mission to the Kingdom of Giants to bring the Helmet back again.

I'll be the Warrior this time, and alongside the Sword of Authorial Imposition, I shall take the battle-axe, the longbow with poison-tipped arrows, and the double-pointed mace. Against an army of giants, I think a ranged weapon and a couple of hard-hitting ones should be useful.

We set off. Between King Henry's realm and the Kingdom of Giants is, unsurprisingly, the Forest of Twisted Dreams, home to all manner of sinister beings. However, we may not even get that far, as the giants have left a horde of Mandroths to hinder pursuers. No, I don't know what a Mandroth is, but they ride six-legged flesh-eating 'horses', and they're not very friendly.

As the Mandroths approach, I ready my bow. For this battle I must flip four coins, and I succeed if I get three heads or three tails. Problematically, I get four tails. The text is a little unclear as to whether the desired result is at least three coins the same way up, or exactly three the same. Two heads and two tails - definite fail. Four of one and none of the other - not specified. I got three tails - I just got another tail after that.

The mace is also usable in this situation, so I'll take the option to switch to that. The rules are clearer on this one: flip two coins. If they come up the same, that's a kill. I have ten flips in which to kill four opponents, and I manage my fourth kill on the seventh flip. Even if I get more doubles, I can't unkill any Mandroths, so that seems a pretty clear success.

Things get a bit weird now. Weapons suitable for battling a horde of Mandroths may not be ideal for use in the Forest, so the Wizard casts a spell that takes us back in time, enabling me to choose some different weapons (but only two in addition to the Sword), yet somehow the Mandroths remain routed. And this whole adventure could have been averted if the Wizard had cast that spell during the intro, moving back to before the giants attacked so he could warn the King and his knights of the imminent invasion.

Yes, I know...

Still, I can take a hint. I'll switch to the dagger, in case I wind up having to fight while hemmed in by trees, and retain the battle-axe, as that wasn't called for in the Mandroth fight, and may come in handy if the trees themselves turn nasty.

We're still in the Forest when it starts to get dark. The Wizard advises making camp until it gets light again, but the Warrior contemplates exploiting the cover of darkness to get close to the giants unobserved (I say 'the Warrior' as this is in the text rather than anything I personally have considered). The final decision is mine, and I'm heeding the Wizard's advice. Some of the Forest's denizens were described as 'moon-worshipping' earlier, so they're probably most active at night.

The following day we resume our trek, and find ourselves sinking into some boggy ground. A fisherman approaches, intending to add us to his net, which is made of living people (how does that even work? Evidently artist Earl Norem doesn't have a clue either, as the illustration looks like a regular net full of humans). The fisherman hurls the Wizard into the net, and when he pulls me out of the mud, I get a chance to attack. The dagger is one of the weapons singled out here, so I choose that, and stab him with it. It doesn't harm him. I wind up netted. No hints, foreshadowings, or explanations, just a big 'YOU CHOSE WRONG'.

This was never my favourite of the WW&Y books I played, so I shall try not to let its flaws prejudice me against the rest of the series. The others may prove just as problematic, but it'll be a while before I return to this series to find out.


  1. I had never heard of this series, but it sounds awful if this book is anything to go by!

    Great review as ever.

    1. There's some wonderfully demented stuff in the later books. A backfiring illusion spell causing a cellar full of zombies to transform into a meadow in which King Henry is riding a giant blue butterfly. The Wizard disguising himself as a crust of bread and getting gnawed on by a rat. The Warrior accidentally shooting himself in the head with the longbow. Gameplay-wise they may all range from flawed to broken, but such glorious madness makes them entertaining even if they're not that good.