Thursday, January 4, 2024

#16 - "Seas of Blood" by Andrew Chapman (1985)


Seas of Blood is Andrew Chapman's third and final contribution to the mainline Fighting Fantasy series. And that's a shame, because he really hits his stride here with a well-written piratical picaresque full of variety and fun twists on old-school D&D tropes. The plot is wholly amoral, concerned only with the acquisition of treasure by any means fair or foul, including but not limited to: banditry; fraud; gambling; piracy (expected); being disguised with unlawful intent; obtaining financial advantage through deception; collecting or making documents likely to facilitate terrorist acts; public nuisance; carrying out work without a building permit; giving false or misleading information to tax officers; injuring with intent to injure; and, oh yeah, actual human slave-trading (yikes!!!)

This blatant skullduggery removes the usual cognitive dissonance of playing a "hero" who commits the indiscriminate violent killings that are typically required to get through these books. Paragraph 400 comprises of you yelling "I am the greatest rascal, the best sacker of cities!" in the face of your rival "Abdul the Butcher", a pallet-swapped dirtbag. In this story, you are doing Just Pirate Tings and people should not expect anything better of you.  

This will be a short and hard-won post, despite and even because of my esteem for this book. How so?

(a) There's not much wrong with it (other than ethically), plus; 

(b) it's punishingly difficult and I didn't get very far at all.

Between those facts, there's a little material for me to mean-spiritedly riff upon, which has always been 90% of what powers these posts. Has this catty little bitch finally had his claws clipped? Let's see how we go. 



The intro is brief yet evocative. You're an infamous pirate captain based in the lawless city of Tak. You and Abdul the Butcher are recognised by lesser pirates as the "kings of daring and greed". Each of you habitually squanders the spoils of your raids on the pokies and it's during one such session out the back of the RSA that someone suggests you and Abdul should have a contest to settle once and for all which of you is the greater pirate i.e. which of these two human turds is REALLY the biggest scumbag of all time. There is no veneer over your murder and other villainous exploits, the evil wizard Bombo Trombo sn't gathering all the green-skinned people for a big protest march or whatever - you're an actual pirate whose usual depredations are being accelerated by a pointless dick-measuring contest. How refreshing!

The contest requires each captain to travel south from Tak to the Isle of Nippur in 50 days, gathering as much plunder as possible along the way. If you make it on time and have more gold to show than the other guy, you win! What a concept, could be an early 21st Century reality show!

The intro is followed by a map which, to my delight, is actually useful when you play through the book.

That is.... not a bad map actually.

Rolling Up My Dude

LUCK - 10

Not loving that SKILL 8. But, as the captain of the good ship Banshee, I don't need to be that tough because I have a crew to fight for me, right? Yep, Seas of Blood has additional stats and rules for the strength of your crew plus an abstract approximation of how many of them are still alive. Basically just SKILL & STAMINA.


Huh........ okay. My crew's a little sub-par too. Well no worries, I'm sure my pirate cunning will carry us through. There's a reason I'm known as the main king of daring and greed, not to be confused with other guy, the that weird meat-themed guy, right? Right????

Another innovation in this book is that you need to keep track of time, because if it takes you more than 50 days to reach Nippur, you lose. You add the count of days in your log whenever you travel, and the healing mechanic for your STAMINA is 1 point healed for every day you add to your log. Very elegant!

The Adventure

As you know, my modus operandi is to play through with TOTAL CHARACTER IMMERSION, to completely adopt the mindset of the protagonist and in doing so, reverse engineer a fully fledged human psyche and personality from the options and outcomes presented in the gamebook. Then, after a few short years of occasional rumination, I write up my findings for you. 

So excellent and rigorous is my method that usually the original text cannot bear its suffocating weight, and it collapses into absurdity. Then, I get to hypocritically point and make fun. Seas of Blood however, is frustratingly good. It... it holds up.

In my earlier drafts of this post, I had a series of (unfinished) "Captayne's Logge" entries written in cod-Shakespearean English that dramatised the rivalry of Abdul the Butcher and his foe, "Bennie the Baker" (me) - who unlike Abdul, didn't get his nick-name because he ground his enemies' bones into flour or burned them up in a big oven or whatever. He actually was a baker of bread, and his entanglement in piracy was a wacky comedy of errors, full of thrills and spills to delight the whole family! Or so I intended -  yet unfortunately, that whole exercise turned out over-wrought and under-funny. It now lives in its fabulous new home: the fucking rubbish bin. It's said writers must be ready to kill their babies - but before I finally capped him in the back of the head, this infant was already sitting in the last row of high school biology class, wiping boogers under the desk and practicing drawing naked ladies. Truly a sad day for literature! Live and learn I suppose... (very slowly, in my case).

Bennie the Baker lays in a hangi.

So anyway let me give just give you the bullet points of my grand career as a swashbuckler:

  • I decide to go the Scythera Desert to "plunder the rich western caravans" because I'm a contrarian and wanted to get some desert banditry in. Boarding merchant ships on the high seas is so played out! Leave that shit for "lame-stream" buccaneers like Abdul. Imma park my boat and go shoplifting.
  • My crew and I spend three highly unpleasant days camped out in the dunes, during which nothing happens, not even an attack by NEEDLE-FLIES. Bloody-minded and foolish to the end, "Bennie the Baker" decides to double-down and just keep waiting, even as our food and water dwindles. "This loaf is gonna rise for sure, fellers!" he assures his men. "You just gotta have the patience of a master baker - like me, 'Baker Bennie'. Mark my words lads, we'll be dining on fresh crumpets before you can say yo-ho-o!"
  • To which: "What," say the crew of degenerate sea dogs.
  • At last, a gang of LIZARD MEN mounted on weird 8-legged diplodocus thingies shamble into sight of our ambush.
  • We attack them, and they slaughter us to a man.
  • ...
  • That's it.
  • That's the end.
  • That was the whole adventure. 
  • RIP Bennie.
Yeah, I got pwned by a bunch of wrinkly web-footed dorks in little kilts :(

Failure and Death 


Notable Encounters

My personal list of fave encounters in this book is dauntingly long and impressively diverse. There's a highly satisfying variety of settings and types of challenge, from dungeons crawls, traps, social encounters, underwater adventure, naval combat, weird magic, et cetera.  It has the vibe of an old-school D&D hex-crawl combined with an Jack Vance rewrite of Homer's Odyssey, except Odysseus plunders everywhere he goes and everything bad that happens is his own fault.  
This bit from Golden Axe more or less happens too.

Since I procrastinated and avoided this post for so long, I even toyed with the idea of adapting it into a 5e D&D module and publishing that instead. As if that would be more achievable? I think there might be a flaw in my method - "I'm not going to finish, because I might start an even bigger piece of work instead".

Anyway in case I really do make that hex-crawl (I won't), let me just touch on a couple of episodes here. One of the things I consider innovative about Seas is the relatively high proportion of encounters that can be resolved with narrative choices rather than via combat dice rolls - the only earlier precedent I can recall is the boss fight with Balthus Dire in Citadel.
As an example, exploring one of the islands you may stumble across Dave Bautista in Barnie Rubble cosplay:


The GIANTS object to you crossing their territory. In a typical FF book, this would just be a straight combat encounter with maybe an alternative solution if you have a jar of protein powder or somesuch macguffin in your pack to buy them off with. And sure enough you can just send your crew to scrap with them and roll it out on the 2d6. However, you can instead propose a contest and "being simple souls with simple tastes, they agree wholeheartedly" - leading to further choices about the nature of the contest and what tactics to use. This can lead to insta-death or severe injury, but in the best possible outcome the GIANTS are so impressed by your gumption that they join your crew. Which we can agree is sick as hell.

The most extensive example is an unavoidable brawl with a CYCLOPS at the end of the book which is a whole branching series of moves and counter-moves that you must select from, keeping track of you and your foes' STAMINA scores as you go.
A working knowledge of contemporary 1980s self-defence techniques is invaluable at this point to determine your most effective move.

The pages of this self-defence manual have browned at the edges just the same way as my Fighting Fantasy collection, or indeed a genuine Pirate Treasure Map.

I do have one minor quibble to level at the book, and without any angle on genuine absurdism in this review I will resort to "Cinema Sins" style pedantry and air it.
Fantasy, as a genre, is highly derivative of history. You can summarise most fantasy settings as something like "cod-medieval Europe", "cod-Roman Republic", "cod-Byzantine", "cod-Viking", "cod-Persian", etc. It gives a foundation and short-hand for the general society & technology level of your setting that authors can then focus on the points of divergence - often a magic system - and teasing out all the implications of this. You know, what if the French Revolution but there's telepathy and Louis XVI is a vampire. This is totally fine and as a history buff something I enjoy about the genre - in fact, when authors try to go their own way and consciously avoid parallels with real world history, I believe they frequently struggle, because all that short-hand context you lift for free from history is helping the audience as much as the author.
Anyway in Seas of Blood, Chapman is clearly going for a Bronze Age Mediterranean vibe, Jason and the Argonauts type steelo. Exhibit A - the cover,  in which a hydra molests what is I suppose a trireme, bireme or a monotreme or whatever with nothing less than a bloody amphora on the sail: symbolic of the material culture of the era, and anachronistic in that it's something exciting to future archaeologists but more or less disposable to people of the time. (Imagine if you will a modern yacht flying the symbol of a plastic 6-pack ring or a barrel of toxic waste).
Jason and the Argonauts has an excellent SKELETON Count and, come to think of it, is  the right vintage to have been a formative influence on writers in the Golden Age of Fighting Fantasy.
Consistent with this, biremes are depicted in an encounter where you accidentally drift into the midst of a naval battle between two rival city-states - another cool concept for an encounter BTW.

Best believe the guys pulling those oars aren't getting paid either.

Elsewhere, you may run afoul of these guardsmen in period appropriate sandals and little skirts.

A warm welcome from the staff at "Centurions" bath-house

All cool and good - Harryhausen style nautical adventure is a sick vibe to nail. But! I'm not sure if the same artist was used throughout and/or inconsistent art direction was given. Elsewhere ships are depicted as 15th Century carracks.

I almost called this a caravel but I thought if I'm gonna be pedantic I better do some research.

Elsewhere some cross-eyed bro shows up all high chivalry in chain mail and a tricked-out hoss like he's gonna joust you after sniffing a lady's handkerchief or something.

This dude really takes a raw dump on the Sinbad vibes.


So yeah, something was slightly off. DING! Murray's a hack. This is what I'm reduced to.

And get one final, unrelated jab in at the art - there's an encounter where you can re-enact the tragic opening scenes of Island of the Lizard King, I can only assume this was a reverential tribute on the part of Chapman. 

While the illustration is thrilling and evocative, the anatomy of a CRAB clearly remains a matter of speculation.

The guys sitting in the foreground is the audience surrogate, tear-streaked and paralysed by memories of sweet Mungo.



Chapman limits himself to but a single SKELETON squirreled away in the corner of a fun little mini-dungeon. It is a normal looking and unsuspicious dead SKELETON with golden rings on one hand, but if you attempt to pilfer them, it suddenly grabs your arm and won't let go! "The supernatural grip proves stronger than your mortal strength or human weapons. Your death comes slowly from hunger and thirst."

What a gyp! Pretty sure you could chop your own arm off and maybe take a 2 SKILL point penalty plus 3 pierogis' worth of STAMINA loss, but whatever.

That coy little smile along with the fact that all the bones are still stuck together into an articulated SKELETON is a bit of a giveaway now that I think about it.

Final Thoughts

My colleague - you might say successor? - over at Deathtraps and Dungeons did not rate this one highly, but I love it. Perhaps I am going soft in my autumn years. 

The world feels fleshed out, there are regional power struggles and a history only alluded to within the book. It gives a satisfying suggestion that the world existed prior, and will persist beyond the hapless career of my pitiful Cap'n Bennie. There are at least three occasions where you can encounter sketchy characters who have history with the protagonist, and they have some past debt or grievance that complicates the adventure.
These small flourishes do much to sell the fiction, and are not typical of FF where the protagonist, as a cipher for the player, often feels like an teenager dropped in from suburban 1980s Brighton.
Reviewing Chapman's previous books, I popped off a few shots about inconsistent effort in the prose. Here he hits his stride and both tonally and in terms of imagination, and the execution reads consistently throughout. I alluded to Jack Vance earlier, which is maybe a stretch, but something of the cynical humour and the unalloyed self-interest of the characters hits a Vancian tone. For instance when you attack one merchant ship, it turns out one of the passengers is a Warlock and he summons a SHADE which flies over the water to attack you. Should you prevail, the crew and other passengers tie the Warlock up and throw him overboard to mollify you. "Forgive us for harbouring such an unworthy fellow! We place ourselves at your bountiful mercy!" Something about this fusion of fantastical imagination and cynicism about human nature feels Vancian to me, and very amusing.

I say I love Seas of Blood for the tone and the content - in terms of gamebook design, yeah it's way too hard with a great many arbitrary random deaths. Mechanical difficulty aside, the feel of this hex-crawl is head and shoulders above comparable predecessors such as Forest and Swamp, and the crew battle, time tracking and travel mechanics - that actually reward looking at the map in the front of the book! - are small but welcome innovations.

At this point we must sadly bid farewell to Andrew Chapman in the series - he did work on an interesting two-player FF off-shoot Clash of Princes, which I played as a child but do not own copies of today. Not long after this he understandably spat the dummy at publisher Penguin over authorship credits, as he recounts on his blog, and never worked with them again. 

Clash of the Princes is the kind of thing I might hypothetically review as a victory lap after finishing the mainline series. But well... you all can see the pace I work at. I'm aging just as fast as my audience - one day every 24 hours. Blood's still pumping though! Keep an eye on the horizon, you scurvy dogs!

Belated congrats to Sir Ian Livingstone, who was knighted since my last post...?!? What the heck?!?


Monday, August 30, 2021

#15 - "The Rings of Kether" by Andrew Chapman (1985)

This time I have no flash of recognition nor eager swell of nostalgia - either I've never read this book or it made nil impression upon me. The cover may be a factor. What I can surmise is that YOU are a Space Guy who is interviewing for a job and you need to impress this chunky middle-manager in the regulation corporate skullcap. Perhaps it is inspired by author Andrew Chapman's experiences working in the Australian Bureau of Statisics.

Already this book is failing the quality test I established in my review of Space Assassin by the same author - i.e. that the title and cover should tell us everything about the book. I don't have a damn clue about this situation.

I get that it's in space. That much is conveyed. But the title - The Rings of Kether. For years I thought it was like "the rings of Saturn", an astronomical feature. NOPE! Maybe it's like "Shang Tsung and the Legend of the Ten Rings" and the doughy fellow staring us down is Lord Kether the Kantankerous, final boss of the book but his magic rings aren't pictured for some reason. Maybe they are covered by his elbow-length pinstripe gloves; which I would comment on, but, if I get started on homeboy's wardrobe: WE'LL BE HERE A WHILE.

So anyway I'll stop dancing around it - it's drug rings! There's a planet called Kether (in space), and there's just a bunch of drugs coming out of there, I guess somebody's gotta go bust these rings man! By which I mean "drug rings"! Go get it! (that's the plot)

I went looking for the U. S. cover of this book but sadly for the first time in 1985 they realised they could just use the same artwork as the UK - the bloke who always drew all those weirdos in the background was I suppose, let go, and in an immeasurable loss to the art world it seems he set down his pencil evermore. 

Hence, here is my alternative cover for The Rings of Kether, which I believe improves on the original by hewing much closer to the book's actual content.

At its peak, Miami Vice had so much influence on men's fashion that they probably COULD have got this skullcaps & pauldrons thing started, had they only tried.


The "mission briefing" is extremely prosaic so let's hustle through it. We're in space, there's a Galactic Federation comprising hundreds of worlds, they have a bunch of laws including certain drugs being banned. Presumably they have other laws too about how fast you can fly your spaceship and whatnot, but in the heavily implied but not actual words of Andrew Chapman: who gives a fuck, you don't need to know any of that

A large supply of the illicit drug "satophil-D" is emerging from the Aleph Cygni system. YOU are a "Grade 1 Investigator" in the "Federal Central (Vice)" department of the "Federal Police Force" and you get assigned to go to Aleph Cygni undercover as a travelling salesman and BUST DEM RINGS. In true Fighting Fantasy fashion, you will have zero support from anyone else!


Rolling Up My Dude

SKILL - 12
LUCK - 11

Pretty good rolls. You also get stats for your spaceship:


Rules for ship-to-ship combat are a little different and you also get two smart missiles which let you auto-win space fights, however ship-to-ship combat never came up in my play-through.
Both ship combat and "blaster combat" have variant rules where hitting the enemy depends entirely on rolling under your SKILL, rather than rolling against the enemy's SKILL test. The latter still applies for melee. This is a new but quite intuitive mechanic, reflecting the fact that a gunfight probably depends more on how good you are at pointing the gun, than how good the other bloke is at getting out of the way.

Like Space Assassin, for healz I have four futuristic pep pills instead of a kilo of beef jerky wrapped up in an old towel. Ironically, I think "pep pills" is originally slang for amphetamines so I wonder if this particular Grade 1 Investigator has been volunteering to lock up the evidence room after everyone else goes home...?

The Adventure

Paragraph 1 drops you straight out of hyperspace and into Alpha Cygni. The immediate info you have is that this solar system has one planet (Kether), which has a moon called Rispin's End, and there's an asteroid belt consisting of "hundreds of thousands of asteroids". Your first choice is to pick where to start your search - the planet, the moon, or the asteroid belt? To which I can only say: WOW. THEY REALLY GAVE YOU NOTHING, ZIPPITY-ZAP, NADA. YOU HAVE ZERO INTEL WHATSOEVER. Just: wow.
I chose to start my search on Kether itself because, frankly, landing on the moon and asking random little green men if they know where to score seemed crazy. And even the book makes fun of you if you decide to search the asteroid belt. It's like, what the heck dumbass, it would take twenty ships ten years to search all these asteroids - go land on the planet you dumbfuck. (That's a precis).

Kether only has one spaceport, which is on the "continental land-mass" and nearby the "capital city" - I already noticed in Space Assassin also that Andrew Chapman was pretty frugal with proper nouns. Not a huge deal, but as a part-time Dungeon Master who relishes inventing names, it kind of bothers me nonetheless.
Ah yes, the iconic duo known to everyone as "two men".

Some Customs officers show up when you land and search your ship for "contraband technology" - your "spy beam" is confiscated, and you're instructed to cross it off your inventory.  Which is fine, since it's not on your inventory, and it never comes up in play. Nice editing, team! Your cargo hold is full of authentic space bananas which you stock-piled to support the cover story that you're a merchant but disappointingly, they don't bother to search it. They just wanted that sweet spy beam - which I'm guessing is a ray gun that lets you hear what people are saying when you shoot it at them
Pretty suspicious behaviour for Customs Officers TBH, but I blithely ignored that important clue as I sauntered out of baggage retrieval, pondering how to begin my investigation. Well, as for leads: I have no leads. The options given are:

1) Just start bailing up random people in the airport like: WHERE ARE THE DRUGS COME ON CREEP DONT HOLD OUT ON ME DO U WANNA GO TO JAIL CREEP GIVE UP THE GOODS etc
2) Go ask for help at the nearest police station - might be sensible but the intro implies that local authorities could be corrupt, so, maybe not.
3)  Hit up the local dive bars.
Since I've got nothing, I figured I needed to work my way up from street level so I decided go for #3. This would also satisfy the requirement in 1985 that any police investigation involve at least one visit to a strip club.  

Given the chance to write some about hard-boiled extraterrestrial night life, Chapman abruptly does a hand-brake turn into literary extravagance and lets his spirit soar. I'll reproduce paragraph 299 in its entirety since I lack the mental wherewithal to even attempt a summary.

The canteen you find is advertised by a gaudy crypto-fluorescent animated sign, depicting a large 'Crush' class stellar battleship diving into a foaming glass of undefined liquid. The sound-effects are defeaning, full of fusion-motor roars, laser zaps and dam-size splashes. Looks promising.
Entering the premises, you find the joint packed with drunken flotsam and jetsam; there is hearty laughter, the obligatory fight in the corner, and it is all very, very noisy. A small sign over the bar announces that no aliens are allowed. Very promising.
Will you approach one of the barmaids for a tip about who in the bar might best be approached for a bit of underworld largesse (turn to 30), or just mingle to see what you can find out (turn to 362)?
That's quite a passage. I can't fathom what I might have derived from it when I was eight years old.
But one thing is clear - anyone swanning up to the barmaid asking about "underworld largesse" is unmistakably a HUGE NARC.
Dang, what gave me away, was it the outfit or the personalised license plate on my Porsche 911

Racking your brain in the heat of the moment, you position yourself as a recently arrived chemist looking for "easy money". I don't think the barmaid is remotely fooled but she sees an opportunity to extract a bribe so offers to help for 3000 kopecks which is... probably a lot? She has a wry instinct for mischief - after I pony up for the Barmaid's Annual Charity Ball, she steers me towards the only other undercover in the pub. 

You sit down at his table and the bloke allows you a few moments to disgrace yourself by asking for "the down-low on some Tangy Fruits" or whatever the same mind that spewed out "underworld largesse" can come up with. Then he laughs in your face and tells you plainly that he's made you, BUT: He is quick to reassure you. Leaning closer, he whispers, 'We can't talk here. Meet me in two hours at the Hotel Miramar, room 1201.'  Then he pounds the rest of his Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster and wanders off.

So that's definitely a lead! Or a casual sex thing. But's let's suppose it's a lead. I have no useful information at all, hence, let's go meet this stranger in his hotel room. 

Upon the appointed hour of our tete-a-tete, I arrive at the Hotel Miramar and have to take the stairs to the 12th floor becasuse the elevator's out. (Sidenote - that's not super science-fictiony is it? But I guess stairs are one of those technologies that have really endured over the centuries). You see a shifty looking bloke exit room 1201 as you arrive and are given the option to tail him - seems likely my informant has just been murdered but I figure if dash in there quickly enough I might just be able to catch the last twenty minutes of his dying words.

The door is locked and I can hear my guy probably dying on the other side - the book gives me a second chance to rush after the suspected killer, which proves too tempting so I dash down the stairs. But thanks to my dithering, he has gotten away scot free. Overdubbed from off screen I hear a cry of "Yikes, murder!" and the cops are apparently there immediately with four helijets. I lay low since I don't trust the local fuzz. I'm at a dead end and unsure what to do next - fortunately, the book takes the wheel.
Next day, you head off the to the City Central Library to see if anything can be found out about the man you saw running down the stairs - at least you know what he looks like. Sure, that makes a lot of sense. I know what he looks like... so I will go and look him up, in the library. 

Yeah, I'll just get on the microfiche and look at every photo in the last ten years' issues of  The Kether Star-Herald on the off-chance that I recognise the SPACE ASSASSIN I glimpsed last night.

Smash cut to - INT. SPACE LIBRARY. It is the next day. 

Being an eerily prescient science fiction guy isn't that easy. William Gibson's embarassment that people were using pay-phones in Neuromancer is on the record. Andrew Chapman has a go at imagining the role and nature of the library in a high-tech culture boasting faster-than-light travel, and he decides that it's a huge complex that's mostly empty because people usally get the information they need sent to them "by cable" which... kind of sounds like the internet actually? Not bad! That's some pretty decent prognostication, right up there with Star Trek: The Next Generation's anticipation of the touchscreen tablet. Try to imagine the high technology of hundreds of years in the future, and you might just land on something that's ten to twenty years off.

So anyway I jump on a public terminal and spend several hours trawling through old crime reports in the public media.  There's basically nothing about the drug trade, except for a single reference to a court date from 4 years ago which reads - Central Criminal Court 3: State vs. Z. Gross and B. "Blaster" Babbett. Before Justic Zark. Charge: trafficking in illicit organic substances (Satophil-D). Sitting 10:30 am.
There are no other references to the case or any ruling - so I look up Z. Gross and B. Babbet in the "vidiphone directory" - and Blaster B has his address listed in the goddamn phone book! I tell ya, you can forget your fukken spy rays and what have you, ain't nothing beat old school traditional detective work! Pounding the streets! Nosing about strip clubs! Looking up perps in the phone book! Classic stuff!

Nevertheless - as a lead it still feels pretty thin. So rather than going straight over there and kicking the door in, I decide my next move is to check the "State Computer File Centre" for more information. "Hello", I resolve to tell them: "I need to examine your computer files". Steeling myself for any manner of bureaucratic nonsense, off I go.
I'm picturing something like the giant building from Rogue One wot had all the tapes in it.

Sadly, the State Computer File Centre is mostly inaccessible to the public, and I don't appear to have any official authority. So I wait 'til nightfall, climb a drainpipe up on the roof and drop through a skylight. "Teehee", I think to myself, "what if the precinct captain could see me now! 'You're a real loose cannon mate, you better straighten up and do things by the bloody book or whatever': I bet that's what he'd say!"

Such whimsical thoughts are quickly cast aside as I drop to the floor, directly into the torch-beam of a patrolling guard (having failed a Luck test).

He has some sick Oakleys and a little pew-pew gun.

I decide to add assault to my list of infractions in the line of duty and violently subdue him without much difficulty. Hopefully he's not dead? The book doesn't say. Stepping over his crumpled form, I access a terminal that's right there under the skylight I dropped through and I just log into it without a password or anything. However, weirdly I only have access to government files about transportation, so I can't look up anything to do with State v. Z. Gross & B. "Blaster" Babbet (BTW I love that the prosecutors decided to use his nick-name in the official records).

I quickly pick up that there are suspicious gaps in the air traffic control records, so my investigation takes yet another 90 degree turn and I decide to go bail up the Chief of Air Traffic Control. You go to the main heli-port where the Air-Traffic Chief works - clearly an unremarkable place, not worthy of a description of its "crypto-fluorescent" signage or the suchlike. It's round about knock-off time, so I'm given the option of either tailing the chief home from work, or waiting for him to leave and breaking into his office. Given the flair for cat-burglary I've already shown, I opt for the latter.

This proves to be a matter of looking up the building directory to find the guy's office, then going in there. Sneaky. There's a 50/50 chance that the Chief is still in his office, but in my universe he was not. I immediately delve into his "private computer files" and find a reference to a large amount of unauthorised traffic between Kether and a rock in the asteroid field named C230. Somebody's coming so I bail out of the office and head back to my spaceship to immediately chase down this extremely tenuous lead!
Cue travel montage!
So, space asteroid C230 is a real trip y'all. I zip in there in my wee spacecraft and space-walk over to a vent, since crawling through the vents Die Hard-style seems to be very in line with my character at this point. Peeping through the first grille I encounter, there's like a "guttering red flame" in an otherwise empty room. This is some bizarrely Conan the Barbarian type shit to come across in the midst of my sci-fi detective story so of course I can't resist checking it out.

As I approach, the flame flares up into a "hellish purple" and I think better of meddling with things beyond my ken and head for the exit- but the doors slam closed in my face. Turning back to the flame - here is what I am confronted with:
Oh no! No, no no. Nope. Noooooooo thank you.

If that awful image were to be animated, you would see that the abberation also turns blue and keeps sprouting new appendages in front of your gaping eyes.  


You can shoot at it or talk to it. I don't like my chances drawing down on this fucking Lovecraft monster, so I wrack my brain for a suitable question to ask. The book gives you 3 options:



3) Hi there! Know anything about the "Rings of Kether"? By which I mean drug rings, I'm looking for them. I appear to have taken a wrong turn, sorry!

Question #1 seems like the most relatable and best role-playing option, however at this point I very clearly need a lot of help with my detective work so I went with Question #3. And against all expectation, the unimaginable cosmic Thing rocks back on its maggot-like haunches, thinks for a moment and busts out a dubious Yoda impression.

In the wrong place, you are.

Misled, you have been.

With the Customs officials, you should be. 

Then it telekentically hurtles you out of the room and slams the door.  "Well sir," I think to myself as I gingerly rub the bruises on my butt, "this is about the darnedest police investigation I ever did embark upon.

Seems like this particular eldritch blashpemy is now my star informant though - remember those dodgy Customs guys who confiscated my super cool spy raywhen I arrived on Kether? The ones I didn't give a second thought? In retrospect: that was kind of suspicious, wasn't it?

You can further explore the space station but I didn't see much point and headed back to the airport (again), wondering if these little jaunts out to the asteroid belt were taking weeks or months, as they might in any realistic space travel scenario. Maybe that's why I packed so many space bananas. The book gives no indication.

Before I push this narrative into its final, unedifying phase, I bet you're wondering WTF that monster was. Me too, so I took a peek at the answers to the other questions. What is it? In its own words: a mind parasite, one of the great old ones from ancient Kyth, so yeah, very much an surprise veer into Lovecraft homage in this sci-fi gumshoe story. And the space station itself is a monastery dedicated to the merciless Thuvald of Kyth, which is scarcely information worth getting Jazzy Jeffed out the door. Thus I'm glad I asked for a clue instead (but probably could have ask for the bloody Lotto numbers am I right??!?!)

To investigation Customs, you have options of intimidation, bribery or sneaking about eavesdropping. Stealth has pretty much been established as my character's MO at this point so I slink into the freight depot and hide in a locker. Conveniently, a group of corrupt officials take receipt of a consignment of Satophil-D right in front of me, loudly proclaiming things like "This must be the stuff - you know, Satophil-D - dope, stuff, dust" before stamping the crates as approved for export. I spring forth brandishing a blaster and enact an on-the-spot interrogation. 

"Who's in charge of this racket?" I bellow, holding my little pew-pew gun sideways in a gangsta grip for added intimidation points. My fearsome posture is too effective, if anything, and they respond in a series of mangled sentence fragments that I reproduce here:

'The Isosceles Tower...' says one Customs official.

' the city...' says another.

' floor...' says the last.

'...and don't forget the communications satellite in the L16 orbit...' gasps (?!) the helicopter pilot.

'No... we won't,' say the others.

I then arrest the group - or is the better word kidnap? - locking them up in my spaceship, without troubling with any follow-up questions or further clarification of that string of nonsense. I have the option of going to Isosceles Tower or checking out the satellite. It seems I have an unerring instinct for wasting my time in this adventure, so I fly up to the satellite, risk my life in a spacewalk over to it (couple of SKILL checks you need to pass), and learn that it's a comms uplink, basically a clue that points directly back to Isosceles Tower again! 

Incidentally, you can choose to blow up the satellite instead of spacewalking to it, which results in a failure ending because you have "destroyed your last clue" - seems like a flaw in the book since I already knew about Isosceles Tower. Anyway the satellite was pointless so I head off to Isosceles Tower just a little bit older and stupider than I would have been otherwise.

Failure, and Death

Well, an isosceles triangle is where two lines of equal length meet in an acute angle, but the Isosceles Tower is where Yours Truly meets an obtuse fate. On the 50th floor I find the office of "Z. Gross & Associates, Import/Export" - Z. Gross being the person charged alongside "Blaster" Babbet in the old court records I found earlier. The office is unlocked, and venturing inside I am confronted with the first and only T-junction of my adventure - truly a sign of what an unusual FF gamebook this one is. I head right, entering a room where two "brutish-looking characters" are shredding paper files and chucking magnetic tapes into an incinerator. "This must be a museum showcasing office technologies of the late 20th Century", I think to myself before hitting the deck cos these naughty boys are drawing down on me. I finally get to have a shoot-out and I drop them without difficulty thanks to my excellent but underutilised SKILL score. One of them had a pew-pew gun with full-auto mode, which I get to keep (for the remaining few seconds of my lifespan). 

Heading into the next room, I am ambushed by a "tall, gangly bureaucrat" who brains me with a paperweight (another of the museum's exhibits I suppose). Instakill on a failed Luck test - that's all she wrote :(

Notable Encounters

Who could forget the mind-parasite from ancient Kith? What the hell was it doing in this book? Other than that, most of the encounters are vanilla henchmen, security guards and the like. So not too much to say here. But flicking through the book, there is this guy, ARCTURIAN VANQUE: 

Wait, is that.... electrified underpants that he's holding???

There's also a robot dog that someone has loving pasted fur onto... 

I suppose the gross hole in its neck is where the charging cable plugs in.

...and TV's Richard Karn makes a cameo as "Mr. Samuel", a beleaguered member of Kether's Vice Squad and the only straight cop in Kether.

Mr. Sammy shows up if you attempt to contact the local authorities in the beginning.


You wouldn't expect SKELETONS in a sci-fi book about busting drug-runners, but then you wouldn't expect a giant fiery snake with the face of a middle-aged school-teacher and spindly little chitinous arms poking out of its neck either, and we sure as shit got one of those. But sadly, the author's derangement did not extend so far as to have SKELETON GUARDS at Blaster Babbet's stash house or anything like that.

Final Thoughts

The idea at the heart of Rings is interesting, in that you are working through an investigation rather than exploring a dungeon or similar adventure location. Conceptually, the "map" of this gamebook is a bunch of investigative options, which have "exits" towards other leads that may put you closer or further away to closing in on the drug ring. Certain sections, such as the "GO TO THE LIBRARY" bit seem to be fall-backs for when you've made the wrong decisions elsewhere. The book feels very rushed in many areas and as such the concept doesn't quite come together, especially if you take a very sub-optimal path as I did. Make no mistake - my investigation was a real dog's fukken breakfast. Let's recap it quickly:

  • turned up on Kether with five thousand kopecks, ten thousand space bananas, and zero fucking clues
  • went to a bar, embarassed myself talking some shit about "underworld largesse", then bribed a waitress with some ridiculous amount amount of money (like, she probably would have done it for HALF what I offered)
  • guy she introduced me to immediately made me for a narc, then got killed before I could learn anything from him
  • went to the library to (apparently) "research" the killer I saw leaving the hotel room (?!?)
  • found a couple of random names in the court records, looked them up in the phone book but ignored what I found
  • broke into government archives, possibly murdered a guard, looked up the space traffic records and found something faintly dodgy, but totally unconnected to the drug trade
  • broke into the office of the Chief of Air Traffic Control and found references to some random asteriod in connection with the same bum lead
  • went to said asteroid, which turned out to be a freaky space monastery somehow parachuted in from a different genre 
  • met a Cthulhu monster who took pity on me and dropped a hint that I should be investigating Customs
  • hid in a locker in the Customs freight depot for a while, then jumped out and scared some guys with my gun (BTW we must assume these guys are dead from starvation now because I locked them up on my starship and never came back)
  • acting immediately on the first mangled garbage that dropped from their mouths, I fly up to a satellite and risk my life doing EVAs to learn nothing new whatsoever
  • go to Isosceles tower, kill two guys in a shoot-out and then get my skull renovated by some pencil-neck from the Accounts Payable department of a front company
  • die miserably

It doesn't exactly read like one of Sam Spade's finest. At this point, I have to ask - was I even really a cop??? I had no support, seemingly no official authority - looking at the things I did, several of them were actual crimes and I could very reasonably have been sent to jail myself. Basically the only smart thing I did was ask the non-Euclidean ululating space menace to tell me what to do, and that bitch might have been a hallucination all along. Could it be... in true Fighting Fantasy fashion... I was just another wandering, homicidal lunatic???


Makes ya think.


Friday, May 28, 2021

Afterword - Temple of Terror game for the ZX Spectrum


 Thanks for the enthusiastic comments and of course all the friendly BOMs. I have done my play through of The Rings of Kether, write up has begun. Permit me to say: Rings is an odd one.

Last post I made liberal use of screenshots from a ZX Spectrum adaptation of Temple of Terror as a text adventure. There's a full playthrough on YouTube here:


My first computer was a Speccy 48K and so I have strong nostalgia for this era of gaming, though I've never played the Temple of Terror text adventure itself.  I can't exactly recommend the video, especially considering that in true Spectrum fashion, the entire soudtrack is just a harsh grating beep that plays for each and every key-press. Nevertheless if you're a true Pit Friend like me, it may hold some interest to see how the gamebook was adapted to text adventure format, where there is greater freedom of options and no combat system. Surprising options such as KICK SAND AT SERPENT GUARD become available!



Monday, May 24, 2021

#14 - "Temple of Terror" by Ian Livingstone (1985)

Somehow I'm here again, volunteering for another suicide mission.

'We need a fearless young warrior who is willing to risk life and limb to save us all. Is there one among you who would volunteer?'
With a wry smile on your face, you raise your arm in the air and offer your services. Yaztromo sees you and says, 'Haven't I seen you somewhere before?'

Well, it was like ten years ago, and I think I wouldn't have been  wearing a crown, can't remember exactly when I started doing that but it was maybe later, and, ah - oh yeah -  probably also I had no wings back then and I was not continuously on fire, but yes, we have met before, Yaztromo. You were my boss.

Some folks got a great memory for faces I guess, or in your case Yaz, something more like a memory for silhouettes, what with my body being a more or less totally charred and blackened husk after the last mission you sent me on.

But hey, Yazza - it's good to see you. Nice to be working together again.

Hello, my friends - today we are playing Temple of Terror, and because it's a direct sequel to Forest of Doom, I'll be playing as THIS GUY:

"Never mind," says Yaztromo, "you look like the kind of person we want."


So, to back it up a little - I am cooling out in Stonebridge, "after the rigours of a recent quest... enjoying the merry company of the Dwarfs... the local blacksmith has honed the blade of your sword as only Dwarfs can".

Hooray! A statement which was intended innocently by the author, can instead be interpreted as a sex thing!

Since, as diligent readers will recall, I did not win Forest of Doom, but instead turned into a FIRE DEMON and took over management of an underground mushroom farm entirely staffed by wizened, inscrutable CLONES, I will say that my "recent quest" was, like, I had a mushroom delivery for King Gillibran and I needed to hit the general store to pick up thirty kilos of baking soda to re-up my cloning vat.

I don't remember what were the supposed consequences of failing to recover the Hammer of Gillibran in Forest - but, we can safely assume they were not as bad as everyone thought. Though given that I'm a fire demon, psychopath, and someone who just wears a big evil crown 24/7, perhaps it caused some crazy shift in societal norms, a greasy slide into moral decadence that enables Yours Truly to somehow avoid the status of a total pariah, and thus be gladly getting on that Merry-Merry with my main Dwarfs - as only Dwarfs can.

Pictured: Flair dish-washing, a merry dwarfish pass-time.
The nihilistic/annoying lyrics are because they didn't get their dumb hammer back.

It is against this background that Yaztromo comes "huffing and puffing" into the Stonebridge town square like a database administrator who's been cajoled into a fun run. He must have jogged all the way from his tower - up the "Footpath", past the "Hills", over the "River" and then over the other "River" - which is quite a stretch for an old feller.

I'll say it again - this is one shitty fuckin' map.

So, this gasping, sweat-soaked, hairy recluse - whose only reason for maintaining contact with the outside world, Ian tells us, is his love of cupcakes - this known weirdo clambers up on a soapbox in the town square and starts telling everyone about a conversation that his pet crow overheard.
The artwork in Temple is pretty hit-and-miss but I will say this portrait of Yaztromo is mmm-mmm *chef's kiss* mwah, delizioso!

The gist of his story is; there is a guy called Malbordus who was abandoned by his mother and raised instead by "Darkside Elves" in Darkwood Forest (Darkwood Forest has a Dark Side, apparently). These Very Dark Elves have been grooming him as an evil wizard and war-leader, putting up motivational posters of Balthus Dire on his bedroom wall and whatnot, and now as a final test of his excellence in evil, they are sending Malbordus to the Lost City of Vatos in the Desert of Skulls to find five ancient dragon charms which can totally turn into Real Actual Dragons. The plan then being that he will fly his five magic dragons back to Darkwood Forest, and in the meantime, the Elves will have raised a huge army, and then they will invade Poland.

What I enjoy about this set-up is that it reveals Allansia's baddies also have no problem with pinning their entire hope on one guy completing a fetch quest all by himself. I imagine the Darkside Elves sending Malbordus out the door with 10 x PROVISIONS and a pat on the bum, before turning to the enormous effort and cost of raising their army while they wait for him to return. Potentially a massive waste of effort should Malbordus fail to e.g. pick up a ball of beeswax that was inside the mouth of an ornamental soap dish shaped like an alligator, in a room three doors down a side-corridor that he breezed straight past because it looked, and I quote: "a bit slimy".

So! Yaztromo was tipped off after his crow overheard one conversation that covered all this stuff.. Possibly it was someone's dying words, already proven to be the densest unit of information in Allansia.

Predictably, Yaztromo's genius counter-gambit to the Dark Elves' plot is to send his own wandering swordsman to Vatos to grab up those dragon charms before Malbordus does. Which is where I come in.

That's me! Willing, and... able? Ish? Definitely willing anyway!

Rolling Up My Dude

Let me address the baluchitherium in the room - it has been a LONG-ASS TIME since I completed a post! I apologise to those who had already mourned my death. In fact, there have been two previous attempts to write up Temple of Terror, about three years apart maybe, both honouring the original rules of play, rolled up in regulation style, and both ate shit almost immediately, in exactly the same way.

You see, a little while after Yaztromo sends you trudging off towards the desert on foot, he gets on Reddit or something and reads a bunch of horse-shit about how Gandalf could've clocked Lord of the Rings really quickly by summoning a giant eagle to carry Frodo to Mt. Doom. You might think that sounds quite sensible, but: it is a very bad idea and you are dumb for liking it.

Why, you ask? I will let my dude the Grey-dogg break it down directly, and in his own inimitable style.

So yeah it's PTERODACTYLS. That was the reason.

Yaztromo though, is just a third-rate knock-off of ya boy the Shadowfax Kidd and he doesn't get it. If you decide to walk all the way to Vatos (like an idiot - you can take a boat instead) - he will send a Giant Eagle to give you lift.

Well, sure enough once you have been flying through the air for a bit a "hideous PTERODACTYL" attacks. The annoying thing about this combat is that it's between the GIANT EAGLE and the PTERODACTYL - apart from one round of ranged combat if you have a bow or the right spell, YOU cannot contribute. And because this is probably the same dumb fukken eagle that dropped the Hammer of Gillibran in Darkwood Forest, the PTERODACTYL has higher SKILL, making it mathematically very likely that you're going to eat shit.

Anatomy of a Wack Situation

Anyway here's my dude, a strong little on-fire man from Forest of Doom:


SKILL - 12
LUCK - 11

Plus on each combat round, roll 1d6, on a 1 or 2, I hit the bad man with my whip for an extra 1 STAMINA damage.

Is this cheating??? Nope! Just very great role-playing! 

The Adventure

Yeah so you get to his tower and Yaztromo, that slapdash motherfucker, makes a big deal out the ten flimsy Level-1-ass spells that he knows, only lets you learn four and then boots you out the door with 25GP pocket money.

I decided to opt for utility spells over combat options, since I already hit like a goddamn tyrannosaur.
Detect Trap - in case there is trap!
Create Water - for when I'm thirsty!
Language - for Google Translate!
Light - in case it gets dark!

These spells cost STAMINA points to use by the way, with the exception of Create Water, which is nice 'cos it's the only one that turns out to be useful.

Yaztromo's crow - whom he unsentimentally addresses as "crow" - escorts you for the first three hours / six sentences of the journey, which to be fair is a lot more support than you usually get as a lone adventurer with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Thanks, "crow"!

So, we gotta make our way to the Desert of Skulls. Dare I hope some of the skulls will have boney bodies attached? (gentle whisper: "SKELETONS"). But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Our first big choice is whether to travel downriver to Port Blacksand and try to take passage by sea, or just, you know, walk. Walking is clearly the dumber option, which triggers an exasperated Yaztromo to send his crappy Giant Eagle to come help you. I'd rather thumb a ride with Richie Valens and the Big Bopper than go through that again, so instead I jump onto a barge with these "rough-looking characters":

A realistic depiction of ordinary British men circa. 1985. This is what half the dudes on BBC TV looked like back then.

The captain is a little surprised that someone is willing to pay to go to "the city of thieves" (Ian Livingstone:😉); but otherwise doesn't seem to mind ferrying an on-fire demon-boy with a spooky crown, so we're golden.

I reached Port Blacksand by the evening of the same day.  It's a brief stopover - there's not a lot of Port Blacksand content in the book - but nevertheless I manage to get swindled and jumped by ne'er-do-wells twice before booking passage out. I'll spare you the details, but as a general piece of advice, if "suddenly an old man in tattered clothes jumps out of a doorway" with an offer that seems too good to be true - it probably is!

Paying off a bartender gets me a seat next to the first mate of the good ship Belladonna, who introduces himself as Gargo. And I introduce myself as Dread Lord Rantastuphan, Master of Mushrooms AKA the Clone King AKA The Embodied Flame AKA Candle Guy. Gargo shakes me down for ten geeps and puts me in charge of loading cannonballs during the voyage south, because, hey why not put the permanently on-fire man right next to the powder magazine.

Turns out the most famous namesake for First Mate Gargo is "Gargo the Vampire Man" from the Galoob line of toys and 1981 TV cartoon called Blackstar, which I guess was some kind of Masters of the Universe precursor. I'm sure everyone reading this will assume I know all about Blackstar but I never heard of it until one second ago.

So, I'm supposed to be working for my passage (on top of paying 10 GP, the bloody cheek of it!!!) You'd think that just loading cannonballs wouldn't really be a full-time job, but this is Fighting Fantasy, so of course we get into a naval battle pretty much immediately and the Belladonna is unavoidably sunk.

I chose not to swim towards the ship that sunk us in case they execute me for being a presumed pirate and/or presumed mid-level boss of an MMPORG. So after taking 2d6 STAMINA damage from getting wet, I wash up on the shore of the Desert of Skulls itself.

At least I've reached my destination. Or rather... the vicinity of my destination. Which is to say, I've manage to strand myself in a pitiless sea of dunes, a bone-dry death trap that stretches from horizon to horizon, and somewhere within is my destination: the Lost City of Vatos. One speck of gold in a fistful of sand! And why is it called the Lost City of Vatos? Cos nobody knows where it is! It's worth taking a pause here to step back and evaluate - WHAT THE FUCK WAS MY PLAN ACTUALLY?!?!? Wander around the desert alone until I just stumble across the Lost City?

Apparently: yes, that is the plan. Might as well get to it.

If Nathan Drake can do it why not me? We're both lovable, mass-murdering rogues.

Wandering through the desert doesn't go too badly, all things considered, since I can magically create water at will. And I found some coconuts (?) on the beach (??) of the desert (???). That takes a lot of tension out of the situation! Though I do cop a bit of heat-stroke damage since I don't have a knotted hankie to keep the sun off my head. Some NEEDLE FLIES attack me - one at a time, which is very considerate - and they're not really a problem. I take 2 damage from a sand-storm and find a brass hand-bell poking out of the sand afterward. A guy on a camel says what's up. All iconic desert vibes, you know.


Further aimless roaming gets me to a nomadic trader's tent. The proprietor, Abjul, is a stand-up G who comps you a kebab with the works. He's selling a bunch of antique store tat with no indication of what any of it does. I spent the rest of my cash 'cos you cannot take it with you when you die - which is more than a platitude in the Fighting Fantasy context since I am very likely dead within the next ten paragraphs. 

All of the items he sells are conspicuously featured in the accompanying art. This necessitates the "Crystal Key" being about the length of Abjul's forearm - it's like the big novelty "Key to the City"  which Buster would get from the mayor for, I don't know, saving a cat from drowning in the canal or some similar act of working class childhood heroism. And if that reference is too bewilderingly specific - let me remind you that you're reading a blog that deep-dives into a gamebook series that about 0.01% of the population has any awareness of, let alone fondness for. You knew what you were getting into.

Here's what I scooped from the lucky dip:
Silver Mirror - because even if it's not enchanted, mirrors are kind of useful, e.g. for touching up those  weeping cracks in the skin of your blackened, smouldering face
Bracelet of Mermaid Scales - Abjul assures me this is the real deal, "straight off of a mermaid's butt". Probably lets you breathe underwater or whatever. Knowing my luck with magic items, it transforms your head into a fish's pee-hole.
Ivory Beetle Charm - 'COS I <3 BUGS ;)
"Welcome effendi! Please inspect all my clearly-depicted, novelty-size wares!"

Abjul is even kind enough to give me directions, of a sort. He "thinks Vatos lies in the southern part of the Desert of Skulls". Okay well - thanks for narrowing it down, brother.

So I trudge southwards, wondering what further iconic desert encounters I could possibly experience now that nomads, camels, and (uh) NEEDLE-FLIES have already been exhausted. When I feel a rumbling beneath my feet...

"You realise with horror that a Giant Sandworm is about to engulf you with its spiked oval mouth. It is at least twenty metres long and you must fight it."

It's really not clear how this would work in practice, but I manage to kill the titanic worm with my sword and whip. Just stabbin', whippin', and a whole lot of patience I guess. Before moving on, I chip off one of its teeth to use as a knife, because Ian really wants you to know that, yes, he has read Dune. And I immediately use it to saw the crusts off my ham sandwiches because you best believe I need some num-numz in my tum-tumz after taking a few knocks from that big boy.
UPDATE - ONE known weakness (i.e. being hit 10 times with a sword)

Moments later, I just stumble across the Lost City of Vatos "less than half a kilometre away" (I guess I was day-dreaming and it snuck up on me). As per the text: "Vatos!" a voice inside you shouts, which is a little bit concerning phrasing since it heavily implies it's somebody else's voice.

These Super Mario themed vatos are yelling the word "VATOS!" in front of the city of Vatos. But you hear it coming from inside your body...!?!?!

The city walls are still in pretty good nick, thus, for lack of appropriate burglary spells, I pretty much just have to ring the doorbell. And who should answer but my dearest darling boy, SERPENT GUARD!


"O, SERPENT GUARD!" I say, my eyes welling with tears, "how many years hath it been that thine wildly enthused eyes, and thy unhinged and gaping :D face hath beamed back at me from the tattered copy of Temple of Terror 'pon mine desk, buoying me up, imbuing me with heartful courage - come on mate, come back and finish your blog! You got this mate! I'm here for ya maaaaaaate...!"
I'm practically blubbering as the memories crash over me and sweep me up like a storm tide. 
"Come to my embrace, o squamous saint!" My arms spread wide, "BRING IT IN HOMIE!" 

SERPENT GUARD slithers towards me over the pulverised remains of the Fourth Wall and says: "HIIIIIISSSSS!" 
Then he hits me with his weirdly dainty, long-handled axe! It's like a back-scratcher but for if you wanted to chop up the hard to reach spot between your shoulder-blades with an axe! (Seems like the kind of thing you could buy on Wish, probably?!?) And I can't help but notice his combat power is exactly equivalent to the twenty metre long giant sandworm that I just fought. Crazy!!!!

I think I misread this situation!

Anyway, then I snap back into character with the audible crack of a fiery whip: wha-PEESH! 
I temporarily forgot that I'm the psycho fire demon from Forest of Doom - so of course I mercilessly ram my sword down the throat of the SERPENT GUARD and step on his corpse on the way through the doorway. Not so irrepressible now, eh motherfucker?

So! My lunatic behaviour of wandering around aimlessly has again been rewarded with success, and I've made into the long-lost city - specifically into a featureless courtyard behind the main gate. On the opposite side of the square there is a large stone archway. It seems as good a place as any to start your search for the Dragon artefacts. Yeah it does. 

It's never clarified who was responsible for hiding the Dragon artefacts in Vatos and for what reason, but it's basically an Easter egg hunt from this point onwards, except in a trashy old city full of death-traps instead of your grandad's back yard. Below (spoilers!) I list where the richly detailed Frankton Mint commemorative pewter dragon figurines are to be found:

Gold Dragon - inside the mouth of a bronze statue of a dog
Ebony Dragon - hidden in crack in a carving which depicts Vatos under attack from three GIANT SANDWORMS
Crystal Dragon - a GNOME has it. He'll swap it for a telescope
Bone Dragon - inside a bucket of bones hanging from a rope attached to the ceiling of featureless room where a CENTIPEDE lives
Silver Dragon - fuck knows, couldn't figure it out even by cheating
So you can see that we'll be falling back on some classic FF Bizzare Search Behaviour. But! It gets complicated when this dude shows up: 


Not long after you arrive in Vatos, this creep taps you on the shoulder and gurgles the word "death" in your ear, then vanishes. That in itself is super grody and more than enough to spoil your week - but it gets worse. Evidently the MESSENGER has a bit of a rep because the protagonist already knows what's up:

The Messenger of Death is a sadistic killer who plays games with its victims. Staying ahead of you, it will place each letter of the word 'death' in various locations. Should you come across and read all the letters of the word, the Messenger of Death will reappear to revel in the sight of your life draining away.
So now it's more like an Easter egg hunt in a trashy old city full of death-traps where half the eggs have razorblades stuck in 'em, plus the Easter Bunny has a penchant for revelling in the sight of my life draining away, and there's snot leaking out of every hole in his fluffy wee head. No good! 
I already have to toss the whole city in case someone left a Dragon Artefact hidden in the toe of an old boot, and now whenever I try I might accidentally find a cursed letter A fridge magnet instead. It's a real situation.  

Failure and Death

I can take some small spiteful satisfaction that the MESSENGER didn't get to do any revelling and wasted the rest of his day sneaking about painting letters on the inside of chest lids and whanot, because not long afterwards, I died of unrelated causes. Though I did manage to find the Bone Dragon artefact from the aforementioned innocuous bucket.

What a normal and fully acceptable room.

A scant few direction choices later I was dead, thanks to this big squidgy polyp!

Evidently EYE STINGERS are a well-known hazard as FIRE DEMON MAN is already familiar with their modus operandi - hypnotise with the eye, petrify with the stingers. Thinking myself fabulously clever, I whip out the mirror I bought from Abjul to reflect its gaze back on itself, but, that's not a thing apparently. In fact it's so useless that I just drop the mirror onto the floor, shattering it and losing a LUCK point. Inconveniently, I must then Test My newly-depleted Luck in order to stab the levitating kina without meeting its gaze, and I fail.
That naughty echinoderm's pokey bits brush my face and I am quickly turned to stone. Later that day the Serpent Guards will take you away to join the other gargoyles on the city walls - there's a nice symmetry in that thought, that I shall become an art object for SERPENT GUARDS to ogle and enjoy, even as I ogled and enjoyed their cute little faces in life. Plus I already have demon wings, so, probably one of the better gargoyles up there I reckon! Easy come, easy go!

Notable Encounters

Well, I did want to mention this dumb corridor:

This is so dumb I can't even think of a bit about it. Like... what if they gave you high-fives instead? Is there a gag buried in that idea, somewhere?

Right near the end of the adventure a poor half-dead dwarf from Stonebridge shows up because apparently Yaztromo and King Gillibran started second-guessing themselves for leaving the whole impending apocalypse for a local mushroom farmer to handle. Also Yaztromo forgot that you would need the Hammer to be able to destroy the Dragon artefacts (I swear half the wizards in Allansia are senile).


"Sorry about that... we decided... to take this shit... more seriouslyyyy, ahhhhhhh" DEAD

I imagine he came in on the giant eagle, he looks like the local TERODACTYLS have really had a go at him.  

Finally I'll touch on the named boss characters in this book. Firstly, while it's not super clear what the community situation is in Vatos, this chick named Leesha seems to be in charge. She has a VIP lounge where you have to pass through a golden shower (Ian, really?!) which neutralises all your magic spells. 

An unperturbed Leesha about to get clouted across the back of the head by the 1985 Coro Street version of Vin Diesel.

Oddly enough, when you face her in battle you are asked if you want to attack her with the Giant Sandworm Tooth, which is the only time this option is offered. You know, use it as a knife? Like in the novel Dune by Frank Herbert, now a major motion picture? And it just so happens that this is her only weakness! How did our protagonist intuit this? Were those inner vatos shouting hints at your brain again? Probably, who knows!

Unlike our old mate the Lizard King, Leesha is smart enough to bug the hell out when somebody is brandishing the only object in the world that can harm her. You can chase her but she gets away - AFAIK she never shows up again in subsequent books but you know what? She's pretty cool, I hope I'm wrong about that. 

Malbordus, on the other hand - when he finally shows up - turns out to be just a really gross nerd. Here he is, inexplicably popping up out of the floor in a featureless room, busting out the special intense stare that he practices in the mirror while squeezing zits and reciting self-affirmations that he really is just as good as Zagor & Balthus Dire (untrue).

Hello, it is I, Malbordus, a definitely credible and impressive villain who doesn't have any self-esteem issues. I was waiting underneath the floor for you to arrive. 

If you find all the Dragons and wipe out this loser, your reward is that you get to walk back to Stonebridge where you assume Yaztromo MIGHT deign to teach you some more spells (you hope). Whoop-de-fukken-do mate. 


 Here's a couple of bonnie boys, you can just bump into them somewhere in Vatos. It's a basic "wandering undead guards" encounter, which is a classic use of SKELETONS in fantasy that I completely endorse. There's nothing especially notable about the encounter, other than the fact that they're wearing armour which leaves their pelvises exposed. I feel that's somehow obscene in a way that doesn't apply for a fully nude SKELETON.
Meanwhile - what to make of these dirtbags?
SKELETON Count or SLAMMIN' BODZ Count? Or both???
Like Skeletor, these SKELETON MEN have skull heads and beautifully muscular male human bodies. They can talk (they get precisely one line) and are guards outside of Leesha's boudoir. I'm excluding them: but I know in my heart that if it wasn't for those unambiguously genuine SKELETONS elsewhere in the book, I probably would have talked myself into counting them. And what does that say about me? Very troubling. 

Final Thoughts

Back when I was a young scumbag in my 20s, I flatted with a number of like-minded scumbags. Thanks to our deeply held anarchist principles, we never instituted any chore roster, and this combined with the inherently perverse and slovenly nature of young scumbags soon meant that we were squirming in our own filth like a RAT KING, each waiting to see who would break first and clean something (anything).
This stand-off deteriorated to the point where I announced that I was hiding the letters D-I-S-H-E-S in secret spots around the house, and whosoever was the first to accidentally see them all was going to have to do the dishes.
My plan was deeply flawed because of course nobody ever moved any objects and revealed the hidden letters since it would have been an activity somewhat adjacent to "tidying up". Besides, at this point in our descent, we would soon become fully engaged in chewing up aged mandarin peels and carpet fluff and adhering ourselves to the walls in cocoons formed from the resultant paste.

Flatting - I do not miss it. But the actual point of the story is that it's only mostly exaggerated, this book really did leave a strong impact on me as I child and I expected people to just get it and fall into line when I tried to invoke the authority of the MESSENGER OF DISHES. The Messenger is certainly the most interesting and novel thing in Temple, and in case I neglected to mention, he does have slime ceaselessly pouring out of his eye sockets and mouth. It makes an impression. 
Of coure, his mechanic only really makes sense in a world driven by Bizzare Search Behaviour. I thought City was getting pretty wild with the searching, but Temple makes you search most bizzarely even to even find the dungeon that you're supposed to do your main searching in. And then once you're in there it adds this whole layer of meta with the Messenger. Truly bizotic behaviour! Will we see anything to top that?
Anyway I'm back. Type in BOM if you want to give me another chance!