Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Looking at a Whole Mess of Mist

Robin Waterfield's second FF book, Masks of Mayhem, was released without much fanfare. It came out at the same time as Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World, and the latter book seemed to get the bulk of the publicity. I got Titan before Masks, and what interested me most about MoM when I did buy it was bookmark-related. As part of a promotional campaign, assorted books published towards the end of the year had free bookmarks inside them, each bookmark containing part of a rather unimpressive story, plus one of the questions in a quiz competition with some big prize. I'd got bookmark 2 in Titan, so Masks was my opportunity to get bookmark 1 and make progress towards being able to enter the contest. It was also the source of the pictures on the two bookmarks, and that aspect of the book made more of an impression on me than the plot. I don't remember how I failed it - possibly getting eaten by a Kraken - but I definitely didn't win. Although I wasn't aware of it at the time, Masks was the most unfair FF book yet. It wouldn't hold that distinction for long, though.

My character in this book is the ruler of the insignificant kingdom of Arion, though being royalty doesn't carry much weight within the adventure. It all starts when my mildly sinister court wizard Ifor Tynin warns me that notorious sorceress Morgana is plotting world domination, using sigils to create masks which will render her Golem army indestructible. She already has eleven of the twelve masks, and unless I thwart her, she'll soon have the set, and disaster will follow. For some reason it doesn't occur to me to try and find a seasoned adventurer to deal with Morgana, so I gather together the standard FF fantasy adventure starting gear and prepare to set off.

Doomed though I am, I'll be even doomeder if I get poor stats, so I'm definitely allocating dice.
Skill 12
Stamina 15
Luck 8
I should last a little longer like that than with 8 Skill and 15 Stamina, but it won't make much difference in the end.

Before departing (alone - what kind of rubbish monarch can't even get together a few knights or soldiers for an escort when embarking on a hazardous mission of vital importance?) I pop into the armoury to get my helmet and sword. Kevin the armourer advises me to call on Hever, Lord of Fallow Dale, who owns a horn said to terrify the evil. The text has me decide to take his advice, though past attempts at the book have shown that the horn's not really worth getting, and the section ends not with a choice but with my being directed to another section. I mention the section break to set up a complaint I'll be making later on, assuming I live long enough to make it.

Nothing of note happens until I reach Lake Nekros, which is said to contain all manner of horrific creatures. Building a raft to cross it would get me killed very quickly, so I decide to detour around it through Affen Forest. As night begins to fall, I decide to make camp, and while I'm dozing, a Kraken surfaces and attempts to prey on me. My sub-par Luck isn't low enough to get me killed at this point, so I get to fight the monster. Though I'm given the option of using burning branches, as the Kraken doesn't like fire, the advantages of doing so don't really outweigh the disadvantages, especially as the stupid creature attacks one tentacle at a time. Just using my sword, I defeat the thing without taking a wound.

A spectral army then appears, but I don't have to fight it. The spirits of the Kraken's victims are now free to depart this world, but a sign of their gratitude, they'll assist me once, when I speak the name of their leader, Galrin. The ghosts of a bunch of losers that couldn't defeat a monster with Skill 6 tentacles aren't exactly the most formidable allies to have, but they're better than the nothing I've had as back-up until now.

Reluctant to spend any more time by the lake, I press on into the forest, encountering a band of Spriggans. These are an ugly offshoot of the fairy folk, who like to rob old women. The book thinks they'll make formidable foes even for me, but then only two of them attack me, they do so one at a time, and the more dangerous of the two only has 7 Skill. I've dealt with more formidable stuff while washing up.

The rest of the Spriggans flee, abandoning some of their ill-gotten gains, so I now have some money (ruler of a kingdom and I started this adventure with no cash - and when Mr. Waterfield returns to Arion in a later book, the kingdom's wealth is a big plot point, so how come I set off without a coin on me?) and a garnet ring. I spend the rest of the night in their camp, and then set off again at dawn, section number recognition prompting me to choose which path I take from the clearing.

Authorial ambiguity strikes. I must lose Stamina if I 'have not eaten during the night'. Now, since I won all my fights unscathed, I haven't felt the need to eat Provisions. But when I made camp by the lake, the book mentioned that I snacked on nuts before turning in, so does that count as having eaten for the purposes of this check? Is this a roundabout way of establishing whether or not I camped by the lake, or a hint that I'm supposed to have started consuming Provisions by now?

Regardless, I carry on again. It's a misty morning, and I start to get the impression that I'm being watched. The arrow that thuds into a tree reinforces my suspicions (and the trio of Elves in the accompanying illustration is a bit of a giveaway). I make no hostile moves, and six Wood Elves surround me and lead me to their magically concealed village. They present me to their chief and his Shaman, who are looking into an obviously magical mirror. I am asked what I'm doing here, and tell them about my quest, as it's in their interests as much as mine: I'm pretty sure that Morgana's indestructible and unstoppable Golems aren't going to be kept away from here by a little invisibility. The chief says that what they have seen in the mirror backs up my claim, and permits me to ask one question. Avoiding the option that would lead to accidentally massacring the entire village, I request more details about what they saw in the mirror. They allow me to see for myself, and the mirror shows me a vision of myself standing between two oaks, holding up a couple of items I can't quite make out. The shaman then says that they know more, but won't tell me because spoilers, and teleports me to the other side of the lake. Possibly because that's close to where I'll acquire one of the McGuffins I failed to identify when looking in the mirror, rather than on account of Elvish xenophobia.

Anyway, I'm now in hilly territory, but it's still misty. I cautiously set off - somewhere around here there's something useful, but I'm also in the vicinity of one of the most unsatisfying endings in gamebook history. Coming across a trail made by animals, I take a chance on following that, reasoning that a distinct path is less likely to lead to frustrating vagueness. Reason lets me down: I set off into the mist, and, well, something happens - nobody knows what. Not even the author, it seems. Mind you, having watched The Five Doctors on many occasions, I do have some idea of the sort of thing that can happen in mist-shrouded hills.

Oh no! It's the grassy slope of minor inconvenience!

I got further through the book in my previous online attempt, which includes a version of the rant I was setting up but never got to make here.


  1. I've only read this once, soon after it was published. I remember little except getting caught in a brush fire again and again.

  2. The main character is so gullible and ineffectual that it makes Masks seem like an anti-royalist tract. Brendan Bloodaxe would be turning in his grave.

    It's a shame about the book's shortcomings, because I think the ideas could have made an interesting and challenging addition to the series.