Thursday, 22 August 2013

Stuck in Some Kind of Cave

I was as unenthusiastic about Chasms of Malice, the second Fighting Fantasy book by 'Luke Sharp', as I had been about Phantoms of Fear, in part because the viewpoint character's background would again get in the way of incorporating the adventure into my 'the same hero in as many adventures as possible' nonsense. When I borrowed Phantoms, I simultaneously borrowed the same friend's copy of Chasms. Playing it without dice, and turning back whenever I encountered one of the many arbitrary deaths scattered throughout the book (I think the first one I found had me trying to climb a rope that turned out to be a tentacle belonging to a monster, which promptly ate me), I eventually got to the end and found it tolerable enough to get a copy and re-complete my collection when I decided to buy Phantoms.

I might have had a different opinion if I'd used dice, as this is one of the few FF books to rival Crypt of the Sorcerer in terms of excessive difficulty. However, Chasms' harshness lacks the stat-related side of Crypt's brutality: while the number of life-or-death arbitrary rolls pretty much guarantees failure to any player using dice in either book, if such rolls were removed, Crypt would still be nigh-on impossible to beat without the maximum possible stats, whereas Chasm would just turn into a slow, painful sequence of trying to learn the precise sequence of directions to follow in order to avoid the profusion of Instant Deaths towards the end of the game (assuming that the deplorable One-Strike Combat mechanism was thrown out along with all the other dice deaths). Thus, I will roll up a character for this book rather than defaulting to 12-24-12 as I did in Crypt.
Skill 8
Stamina 16
Luck 9
If attributes really made a difference, those would be a bit too low anyway, and allocating dice wouldn't make enough of a difference: I'd say that 10 is the minimum Skill required to have a decent chance stats-wise, so ordinary fights can be added to the list of ways I could fail this attempt.

All of the author's fantasy-themed FF books are set in the same region and feature the Wizard Astragal, who lacks even as superficial a personality as Ian Livingstone's wizards have. Chasms starts when the Regent of Gorak tasks Astragal with investigating a sudden outbreak of hostility and maliciousness within the kingdom. It turns out that way back in the past, Orghuz, brother to Gorak's founder Tancred, was taken over by an evil force and trapped in the Dark Chasms below the kingdom. Some villain has stolen the True Shield that kept Orghuz from returning, and if the Shield is destroyed, Orghuz henchbeings the Khuddam will be able to increase their numbers exponentially until they can take over the world. Only a direct descendant of Tancred would be able to defeat Orghuz, which is where my character comes in. One minute I'm third-assistant-rabbit-skinner in the palace kitchens, the next I'm being proclaimed blood heir to Tancred and told that only I can save the world. Astragal gives me the Shining Sword that can harm Orghuz in my hands teams me up with Tabasha the Bazouk, a cat with magical powers, and sends me into the eponymous Chasms.

It wasn't until I replayed this book after getting back into FF in 2001 that I realised that almost everything takes place underground. The setting is so much like a standard fantasy kingdom that it's easy to forget that the roads, taverns, prisons and training grounds are all beneath a ceiling of rock rather than out in the open. Anyway, I set off, and reach a cavern with three exits. Leaving via the narrow crack in the wall, I reach another cavern containing a stack of dried roots and a rabbit in a trap. I add the rabbit to my Provisions, and take some of the wood for Fuel (the rule specifying that cooking food makes it restore more Stamina being one of the book's worthwhile innovations.

After leaving the cavern, I hear a shriek and the sound of pursuit, and run until I reach a bridge across a chasm, guarded by a staff-wielding Dark Elf. Turning my back on the Elf to confront my pursuer (a harmless creature, possibly related to the Jib-Jib, though it's not named) would get me knocked out and taken prisoner, so I risk fighting. The Elf comments that I'll make a good slave for his lord once I'm wearing a collar, but he will be disappointed, as I roll a double 1 around ten rounds into the battle, which means I fall off the bridge and into the chasm.

Almost as quick a failure as on Crypt. In fact, I think I got through fewer sections of this one, but as the combat took longer than the single roll that brought my attempt at CotS to an end, this did take longer. Not as long as the last time I failed it online, though. Incidentally, the delay in posting this playthrough is because my internet connection is down rather than because of any aversion to playing the adventure (I'm posting this from a computer in the local library, and may have to do the same with tomorrow's entry). I've not exactly tried to hide the fact that I don't like Chasms very much, but I don't hate it enough to bring the blog to a halt.


  1. I like this book for its weirdness and atmosphere (helped along by the illustrations of course). But definitely not one to play by the rules. I think you need to develop a set of house rules per book to make them worth playing at all, then play them all again. Don't worry, I'll keep reading!

  2. I might try using house rules when I get back to replaying the more preposterously unwinnable gamebooks. But I think it's worth showing how unplayably broken a book is by attempting it by the rules before I start tinkering.