Monday, 27 January 2014

Subconscious Prejudice - a Way of Life

My original acquisition of a copy of the Fighting Fantasy book Black Vein Prophecy prompted a sporadic period of second-hand gamebook acquisition. It was during this phase that a browsing expedition to East Hull proved fruitful. In one of the charity shops along Holderness Road (probably the no longer extant Salvation Army one), I came across a copy of one of the Virtual Reality Adventures for not very much, so I bought it and played it a few times before that phase passed and I gave the gamebooks away.

I wasn't as discerning back then as I am now, otherwise I doubt that I'd have ever bothered with VRA when I properly got back into gamebooks. Because my first (and for several years only) encounter with the series was Mark Smith's The Coils of Hate, which is (to put it mildly) not a particularly good book. Despite its being 'the way [Smith] wanted it', according to the man who wrote the good VRAs. But if I were to avoid writing posts on gamebooks just because the books weren't very good, this blog would be a lot shorter, so it's time I was having another go at Coils.

The primary setting of this adventure is Godorno, the misanthropy-inducing dump that the hero of Green Blood, Mr. Smith's previous Virtual Reality Adventure, left at the start of that book's prologue. It's possible that this is on Orb, the setting of the The Way of the Tiger books Mr. Smith wrote along with Jamie Thomson, the same authors' Fighting Fantasy adventure Talisman of Death, and a sequence in one of their Falcon books. Well, that's the most likely explanation for its featuring an appearance by the annoying Tyutchev, a native of Orb who appears in a few of the aforementioned books. Then again, as far as I'm aware, none of the explicitly Orb-based books mention any of the major locations of Smith's VRAs, and while taking a quick peek at the Tyutchev encounter for clarification, I saw a reference to Aleppo (which is in Syria!), so I should leave figuring out the geography to somebody who cares.

My character is one of the Judain, a monumentally unsubtle fantasy version of Diaspora Jews. While there is no guarantee that all of the pre-generated character types listed at the start of the book have a shot at winning (well, there were a few 'cannot hope to win' character types in Green Blood), I might as well start with a character designed by the writer. I go for the Schnorer, who's essentially a streetwise rogue.

I leave my hovel, not intending to return, and as I set off along the street, a youth yells abuse at me and spits in my eye. I ignore the insult, so he tries to knife me, and I use my Unarmed Combat Skill to disarm him. Continuing on my way, I take his knife with me, apparently to prevent him from using it on any of my fellows, though given the way gamebooks go, I'll probably wind up stabbing somebody or something with it before long.

My wanderings bring me to Greenbark Plaza, just in time to hear the town crier make an proclamation. Taxes are up. A man close by in the crowd seeks solidarity with me in objecting to this. But the town crier has not yet finished. While he doesn't phrase it the way I'm about to, the upshot of the remainder of the announcement is that, in order to channel the inevitable public outrage away from those in charge, anyone who doesn't follow the state-approved religion is officially scapegoated. Especially the Judain.

The man who, moments before, shared his disapproval of the tax increase with me, now gets like Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The Cunning Skill has me grab a convenient member of the nobility as a human shield, though I let her go (with an apology, even) as soon as I'm out of the thick of the crowd and in a position to run for it.

Before long, the crowd pursuing me has grown, and some of the Overlord's cavalry join in. Up ahead, there's a horse tethered outside a drinking house. I try to make my escape on the horse, but it throws me, and by the time I've recovered my wits, the soldiers have caught up with me, and skewer me.

That was quicker than expected. Anyone wishing to know about some of the 'fun' I didn't reach in this attempt at the book might like to check out Per Jorner's painfully thorough review of Coils, which is a good deal more entertaining (and may well have had more thought and effort put into it) than the book itself.


  1. "The man who wrote the good VRAs" - thanks, Ed, that's my epitaph right there.

    Actually I'm the one who's responsible for the ready-made characters at the start of COH. This is ironic on several levels. First because they're based on Jewish folklore/culture, and unlike Mark I'm not Jewish (though I bet I've been to synagogue a lot more times than he has). But mostly because I fondly imagined it would be possible to complete the adventure with any of those characters, and as Per's review makes clear, it didn't turn out that way.

    I keep meaning to go back to COH, map out the flowchart, fix the broken links, & add some material so that any combination of skills can get to the end. Alternatively, I could spend the time writing a whole new book.

    1. It would be interesting to see of COH could be salvaged, but probably not interesting enough to make it worth doing. A certain well-known phrase comes to mind, but I'm not sure that it would be kosher to compare the book to a sow's ear. I think you'd be better off going for the 'whole new book' option.

      While I haven't analysed COH in anything like as much detail as Per, a quick look at paths not taken just during what little of the book I made it through on this attempt indicates the adventure to be impossible to complete with at least two of the ready-made characters. Possibly three, depending on how you interpret the 'you could' about using Spells in section 254. I take it you had little or no opportunity to refer to the book when drawing up the list of characters.

      Oh well, in a month or so I'll be moving on to Necklace of Skulls. I have fewer memories relating to that one, but the ones I do have are a good deal more positive.

    2. IIRC the book wasn't even written when I drew up the characters. I made an effort to rejig Green Blood so that any character could complete it - it was all a bit of a rush, though, so I'm not saying I succeeded. In the case of COH, I'm always reminded of Wittgenstein: "Of that which we cannot speak, we must pass over in silence..."

      If you're playing Necklace, the new edition fixes a few glitches from the original. Not that I'm saying you should shell out for a new copy, mind.

  2. I really like Green Blood, but Coils of Hate is unplayable.

  3. The hardest part about completing Coils of Hate is avoiding the transitions between sections that simply make no sense. If you play the rules as written, it's not too difficult, but absolutely no fun.

  4. Good news commenters! I have taken the great bits of Coils of Hate, added some of my own and linked them together. Mark Smith has given me permission to release this reboot and it is now available for free! Enjoy!