Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Scouting for Monsters (Forest of Doom playthrough)

If you go down to the woods
today...
Be prepared. Something any self-respecting Scout would know applies to any adventure into a forest, be it on a massive Jamboree or simply a solo camping trip. However, no Scout would be able to prepare themselves for the various occupants of Darkwood Forest; the titular Forest of Doom. Fortunately, I am not a Scout and as such hope to be able to actually survive an FF book for once on this blog. Forest of Doom is one of those books published in all 3 publication runs; #3 (1983) in the Puffin series, #8 (2003) in the first Wizard series and #13 (2011) in the second. As you can see from the picture, it's one of Ian Livingstone's stories; it's also his first solo effort. My younger self from 9 years ago remembers it as not being Ian's finest, but we shall see whether my 9 year-old self was just thinking a load of rubbish or not in the next 4000 words or so. My copy of Forest is the one on the right, with the cover art by Martin McKenna, who also did the cover of the newer Wizard edition, which is the same Shapechanger only mirrored; I have no idea what the purpose of doing that was. Ian McCaig drew the original Puffin cover; it's similar to Martin's effort but with a less 'modern' feel. The interior decoration is done by Malcolm Barter, the only time his skills were called upon for an FF adventure.

Being the third FF book in a combined Wizard/Puffin collection, there's nothing too spectacular within the ruleset here. In fact, the only extra to the original 3 stats is the potion choice returning from Warlock; that of Skill, Stamina or Fortune. It's pretty amazing how Ian and Steve touched upon near-perfection with their first books as far as the the rules were concerned; simple but effective combat coupled with the use of luck made for an easy-to-use and enjoyable gamebook system. Later books dared to expand upon the system and make it more complex, with varying degrees of success, but there can be no denying that the FF system is what made it such a good worldwide seller. My stats for Forest of Doom were my best yet:
Skill 11, Stamina 19 and Luck 12 (FINALLY!!!) With Luck finally for once on my side and a legendary name such as Robert Baden-Powell for my warrior, it was time for the introduction.

Heck, if this Cat survived a crossbow through the chest,
a Dwarf of famed high constitution should be able to!
Robert Baden-Powell is your average sword for hire in search of wealth, danger and his Navigation badge. Life is pretty dull; he hasn't seen anybody in over ten days. Keeping himself occupied by spit-roasting rabbits on an open fire, on the 11th night Robert falls to sleep in a wood with dreams of green-faced Trolls screaming at him. Suddenly a twig snaps nearby his camp, startling him into action. Robert is an alert fellow; you're not going to catch him off guard and carve out his spleen that easily! It turns out that the intruder is an old Dwarf, complete with traditional poisoned crossbow bolts protruding from his torso. Robert seizes upon the chance for his help the elderly badge, giving said Dwarf his sheepskin blanket and some water to help him out. Alas, alack! The Dwarf, (incidentally named Bigleg) is dying from a slow poison administered from the bolts in his chest. Bigleg's dying words to Robert are to ask him to take the hammer to Gillibran, lord of Stonebridge and save the Dwarfs, uniting them against the dastardly Trolls in the process. Apparently this hammer of victory is somewhere within Darkwood Forest, although Bigleg says I'd be wise to visit Yaztromo first and purchase many potent magics. Bigleg dies leaving me his small fortune of 30 gold pieces and a map to help me find my way.
Surely a contender for the most useless map
in all history?!?!!?

Realising that the mapping skills of Dwarves leave alot to be desired, Robert treks off to Yaztromo's tower. Some half a day later, he reaches his destination. It is very much of note to point out that the reader can die in as little as 2 paragraphs in Forest of Doom should they be foolish enough to attack Yaztromo. It it also very much of note to point out that I am not foolish enough to do so. That and the memory of my younger self's failures to complete this book, that is! Following Yaz up the stairs, I am reminded that he is one of the few true recurring characters, featuring in most of Ian's books. He is, in every sense of the word, an FF legend. Resisting the temptation to ask him for an autograph, I follow him upstairs and go shopping. With Bigleg's money I make some potentially life-saving purchases:

  • Nose Filters
  • Rope of Climbing
  • Ring of Light
  • Potion of Stillness
  • Potion of Anti-Poison
  • Holy Water
  • Armband of Strength
  • Fire Capsules
  • Garlic Buds
The above groceries cost me 25 of my 30 gold pieces - a relative bargain! Yaztromo tells me of the war-hammer Bigleg spoke of. Rather inconveniently, the Eagle carrying it back to Stonebridge was attacked by Death Hawks, and now the hammer lies (in two pieces) in the hands of Goblins within Darkwood Forest. Robert is yet to earn his Goblin-slaying badge, so the prospect of landing that too is too much! Bidding Yaz a fond farewell, I set off into the forest, proceeding east, mainly for the reason east is usually safer than west. Soon Robert stumbles across a Crow perched on a signpost. Rather like the Hugh Grant Dinosaur from an earlier escapade, the Crow proceeded to blow my mind by wishing me a good afternoon. Deciding that Crows are trustworthy creatures, I buy advice on the hammer's whereabouts for a single gold piece. Why does a Crow need gold, I hear you ask? Well, Yaztromo turned this poor fellow into a Crow, although I am not told why. I came very close at this point to restarting the book, not buying anything off Yaztromo so I could give the Crow all 30 gold pieces he needs to get his humanity back. Sadly, the book lacked the option to do so anyway, an annoying case of not having free will to do precisely the action I want when I possess the tools to do so. I sense a debate about free will within FF books coming up at some point in the not-too-distant future...

With this you can fell an Ogre from 10
paces! All for only 1 GP too, a true bargain!
Alastair the Crow advised me to go north, so I do so. Hiding in some bushes to avoid a confrontation with some Hobgoblins, I rather stupidly proceed by guiding Robert down a hole with a Sting Worm in it. Decapitating the despicable creature, I raid it's hole and find 4 gold pieces and a mysterious bottled liquid. Feeling daring, I drink the substance to find it was a potion of weapon skill; consequently for my next two combats my attack strength would have 1 added to it. Nice! Clambering out of the hole full of confidence that going off the beaten track would yield further handy items, my next stop is into a nice cosy cave nearby. An Ogre is in residence and fails to find my name on his guest list. My childish urges get the better of me and I take the option to lob a rock at the Ogre's head. Sadly, my lack of a glove of missile dexterity means I miss, only angering the Ogre further. Drawing my trusty steel, I engaged the Ogre in the ancient art of butt-kicking. Robert is a boss at this and soon the Ogre is lying dead in his own home. The Ogre was keeping a Goblin prisoner in a cage; a Goblin with half the warhammer around its neck. Continuing my run of liberating prisoners, I freed the Goblin, mainly to behead him and steal his hammer piece. Hooray! Half of my  shopping list for Gillibran is now complete! My nose filters also come in handy whilst exploring the cave; A silver box with customary poison gas trap tries and fails to kill me. With a spring in my step, I bound gleefully along the path with the belief that nothing can stop me now.

Solid advice Horace, much obliged
Before I know it Robert is dangling upside down in a man trap. Bugger. Luckily I free myself and continue onwards with only my pride dented. Because of this I decide to buck the trend and ignore the next trip off the beaten track I'm offered (A treehouse, how quaint) and hike west. And west some more. A quick brown fox jumps past running away from a pack of decidedly unlazy dogs whilst I hide in another bush to avoid being mauled myself. At this point Ian employs a technique I am unused to in an FF book; I am informed that I wonder much about the fate of the 'poor old fox'. Ouch, nice guilt trip there Mr. Livingstone, well played. Wishing I could turn back time and find a way to keep the fox alive, Robert moves on regardless, albeit with a slight tear in his eye. Moving west, that is. A man flexing his muscles in a mud-hut is the next slightly bizarre set piece I come across. Quin the random muscle man challenges me to an arm wrestling contest to win his bottle containing dust of levitation. He won't give me a demonstration, but I want my jar of dust, even if that is all it is. So I cheat, using my armband of strength. Quin goes on a mini rant before giving me my much earned jar of mystical dust, at which point my adventures going west sadly end due to the only options being north or east.

I choose the former, winding up at a waterfall. Time to practice my rowing skills. Unfortunately, Robert's chance to win his watersports badge go up in smoke as the boat leaks, ruining all 10 of my provisions.  Bugger. I set up camp for the night and start dreaming of that silky brown fox again. Double bugger. Next thing I know a Werewolf arrives and wakes my up asking whether I have some marshmallows he can roast on my fire. Triple bugger. Robert dispatches of the Werewolf but gets bitten on the arm. Without any belladonna, I sweat (quite literally!) on good fortune prevailing to stop me from dying due to this were-bite. Thank Libra my luck score was so high for once! In the morning I trek further north-east as the option to go west is still mysteriously non-existent. Before long good fortune smiles upon me once more as an arrow aimed at me by a Wild Hill Man misses my head by a matter of inches. Seething with anger, I launch myself upon him and his companion. Seriously hacked off, I hack off their arms to teach them a jolly good lesson, and steal their silver key. (Hey, without arms they weren't going to use it anytime soon)

Always be nice to clergymen, they bite.
Thoroughly annoyed at everybody's wishes to end my life upon sight, Robert trundles onwards, completely ignoring a well he goes past. My reasoning is that a well in a forest of doom and gloom is unlikely to have clean water in it; we'll never know. Well actually you can - buy a copy and turn to reference 172, tell me how it goes. The next random encounter features a friar searching for a missing brass bell. Not having one, I toss him a gold piece to cheer him up and he blesses me with good luck. Luck of this sort is what I could have done with back with that pesky portal. Leaving the friar to continue in his search for his bell, Robert finds an old stone building covered in ivy. The door is locked, although that silver key I found earlier unlocks it to my eternal joy. I descend into the dark depths within, finding what appears to be a crypt of some sort. I could just back out without exploring, but I haven't unlocked the door for nothing! Trying to move the stone slab off the coffin in the middle of the room, I find to my eternal shame this time that Robert is a puny bastard who cannot achieve this task. Damn.


Don't fuck with holy water,
especially if you are one of the undead.
However, I am saved by my jar of dust. The slab rises to reveal a terrible Ghoul beneath, who is hungry for my flesh. It is at this point I realise that my water of holiness can aid me; I throw it at the undead monstrosity and laugh manically as its skin burns at the touch of such a goodly weapon. This maniacal laugh soon changes to a gleeful one as I find the hammer head inside the coffin along with a small fortune of 25 gold pieces. Holy shit. I have both hammer pieces; if only I find my way out of the forest I might actually do this! Leaving the crypt, Robert now has a very big grin on his face; even the cheshire cat would be jealous. Ignoring some shiny stuff (I have the hammer, I need no mere trinkets!) I get ambushed by 5 bandits, led by a female. They demand 5 objects from my backpack or I die. Seeing how I am without provisions and only on stamina 12 at this point, I decide that although my skill score is 11 it would be highly risky to enter combat at this point, so begrudgingly begin to decide which of my remaining magical items I bought of Yaztromo I would no longer need. But wait! The book tells me that I can 'treat all the items in my backpack as a single object, including each gold piece' What? HA HA HA! The gods are truly smiling on me. Giving them 5 gold (still leaving me with 27 pieces) I laugh in the face of daylight robbery and move on. Before I know it, I'm out of Darkwood Forest and have arrived at Stonebridge! Barely able to contain my excitement, with both the hammer head and handle in my possession, I can finally....


TURN TO 400!!!!! 



Gillibran is suitably grateful for the return of the warhammer and gives me a golden winged helmet worth its weight in gold. I also get a silver box, but unlike the one in the Ogre's cave this box is full of valuable gems and jewels. The book never tells me whether the Dwarves defeat the Trolls, I like to think they did though, otherwise getting this hammer back will have given them all false hope. To be quite honest, I couldn't really give a shit; I just got rich and more importantly, actually COMPLETED an FF book. I seem to remember claiming the day I won an FF book to be a national holiday, but here we have a problem. By the time I finish writing this entry up it shall be the 4th July (Happy independence day to all my American readers) although I actually finished playing this on the 3rd. Therefore, I conclude that both days shall be a national holiday for each of my readers from now on! For once, if you want to play through Forest of Doom yourself my journey through the book shall prove most useful:

1-261-179-160-343-8-392-157-125-15-217-262-337-230-137-10-290-385-168-117-232-263-126-365-358-40-274-109-124-180-361-86-208-99-209-28-52-78-349-291-335-326-145-285-388-155-259-244-198-87-90-210-43-50-188-359-281-393-369-191-243-166-390-280-306-391-200-351-292-95-173-112-103-360-279-246-204-400

That only comes to a grand total of 79 paragraphs, which is less than 25% of the lot. That's the least I've read yet whilst being my only success. I guess there were a few off the beaten track encounters I skipped, but it's interesting to see how few paragraphs can be visited to win. The fights aren't exactly overwhelming either:

Sting Worm - Skill: 8 Stamina: 7
Ogre - Skill: 8 Stamina: 12
Goblin - Skill: 5 Stamina: 4
Werewolf - Skill: 8 Stamina: 9
First Wild Hill Man - Skill: 7 Stamina: 5
Second Wild Hill Man - Skill: 6 Stamina: 4

That Goblin is not the easiest combat in the book either, there's some Gremlins with truly laughable skill scores of 4 and 3 respectively. There are also no encounters with monsters of skill higher than 10, which suggests the early FF books were focused on easy combat. Despite everything you've read so far, the next feature may surprise you...


HOW MUCH FIGHT WAS IN THIS FANTASY?


This seems like the illustration with the
most love put into it.
Illustrations: I love the cover featuring the Shapechanger; It looks like a reasonably menacing lizard-esque creature waiting to rip the reader to shreds. The interior drawings vary in quality in my eyes; some look nice and detailed whilst some leave a bit to be desired. The Wyvern doesn't look particularly good and the attention to detail on those Wild Hill Men was also poor. The drawing of the Fire Demon seems badly shaded, although the aforementioned Gremlins look good.The Ogre is also excellent and earns the honour of being my featured illustration. In my eyes there's a real mixed bag here. 5/10.


Monsters/other NPC encounters: Hmm. There are a few NPC meetings here, such as Quin and a not-so-powerful 'wizard' named Arragon. The problem is that none of them are really interesting in any way, offer nothing to the story (although meeting Quin is essential to getting that magical dust) and have no development to their character whatsoever. Even Yaztromo is not particularly interesting in this adventure; credit however is due to introducing him, he does become possibly the most interesting and certainly the most developed NPC within the whole of FF. The monsters on offer are mostly traditional fantasy fare, with no real unique encounters in Darkwood. That's not necessarily a bad thing; everyone loves a good tale featuring Goblins, Trolls and the like, but none of the monsters are presented in an interesting scenario. 6/10.

Storyline/Plot: The Dwarves have a warhammer. They've lost it. They need it to unite themselves in one effort against the Trolls, who we assume they are at war with or something. You couldn't care less about this unless you can earn money out of it. That's about it; you learn what plot there is at the beginning of the adventure and nothing more. None of the encounters along the way develop and expand this plot, which leads to a slightly frustrating story, as there isn't really one. Not every FF book needs a plot, granted, but I feel there could have been more made of the story behind this one. The encounters seem slightly false and forced too just to get the reader to use all their items; Why would a couple of Wild Hill Men own the key to a crypt with a Ghoul inside it?! It's not the best fantasy tale, this. 4/10.

Difficulty: Well, it's my first successful FF venture. That alone doesn't make it easy, although quite frankly I think Forest of Doom is. None of the fights are particularly hard at all and I never even used half the items I bought off Yaztromo at the beginning. There's also very few instant death paragraphs, with the best two being if you foolishly attack Yaztromo right at the beginning and an amusing one where you transform into a Fire Demon! You need that silver key off the Hill men, the dust of levitation off Quin and that's about it. Getting lucky like I did with the choosing of which path to take is obviously helpful, but this isn't the hardest FF by any stretch of the imagination; a few lucky dice rolls in combat and this can easily be done with the lowest initial stats. 4/10.

Seal of Approval: Part of me really wants to invite that Seal back again for Forest of Doom in honour of it being my first FF I completed. To tell the truth though, I didn't really enjoy this one as much as you might expect. The whole book feels disjointed; it doesn't really flow, seemingly being just one random encounter in the forest after another. There's nothing in here that makes you sit back and think 'Wow, that was really awesome!' But then I think that this could be the only FF I ever do complete; how absurd would it be not to have the Seal of Approval in that case?! I think the deciding factor is a decidedly massive flaw with the gameplay in Forest of Doom; namely what happens if you get out of Darkwood without both hammer pieces. If you don't have both parts the Dwarves send you back around the edge of the forest back to Yaztromo's tower, where providing you pass a luck test you make it back alive. Fine, great, you get to go back in and try again, surely that makes it even easier to succeed? But there's a massive problem with the narrative here. Yaztromo has mysteriously forgotten who you are, as have you he. Quin will have forgotten who you are, and will somehow have got his dust back. That Werewolf has resurrected itself.... need I go on? The book doesn't account for the fact you may have come across many of the encounters on your first or maybe even second pass through Darkwood, resetting everything. That is frustrating beyond belief and all I can say is I'm glad I had both pieces first time around; I don't think I could have coped with replaying the same encounters just because I'd missed a hammer piece. For that reason, it is with no real regret that I do not award the seal this time.


No Seal this time, this guy ate him.


What Forest of Doom could have done with is what you see above; some real bite to it. Without it, it simply wasn't that great - Sorry Ian! The only recent update in the FF playthrough family features Marsten going berserk and causing havoc, although I would also highly recommend and nudge you all to check out the ever interesting Stuart Lloyd's blog, currently featuring a look at the fine divide between making a Gamebook challenging whilst keeping it fair and interesting to play without getting frustrated by it; Crypt of the Sorcerer I'm looking at you here! The moral learned from Forest is highly important should you require aerial transport anytime soon; Never entrust the movement of your sacred warhammer to an Eagle.


NEXT TIME ON 

May Your Stamina Never Fail...



I leave this world far behind and delve into my first FF sci-fi book, attempting to overthrow an evil plot and become the Sky Lord...

 



6 comments:

  1. Lucky blighter :) Good luck with Sky Lord...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hadn't read through the rules of Sky Lord till earlier, it looks somewhat complex. My younger self was never a fan of the sci-fi books I had back then (Starship Traveller & Freeway Fighter)so I'm not exactly confident I'll enjoy this one. But hey, who cares, I won one!

      Delete
  2. Well done in completing this one!

    I remember when I was a kid, I'd be able to find one part of the hammer, get to the village, and couldn't be bothered going through the whole thing again to look for the other... I could never seem to find both parts on one trip.

    While you were trudging through the upper parts of the forest, I was down below having all kinds of mayhem in the dungeon below... did you know there's a dungeon beneath this forest? No, me neither - not sure it's even possible, either.

    Also, you had a jar of dirt - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRcj6CAhe7s

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A dungeon beneath a forest I can fully believe. The problem is that it seems well-known in Eye of the Dragon, yet nobody knows/mentions of its existence through Forest of Doom. Try not to use my playthrough to get an easy win if you can help it, not that I'd blame you! Also, I thought long and hard about the whole jar of dirt thing, but in the end decided I couldn't use it for a jar of DUST... when I inevitably find a jar of dirt at some point in Allansia I shall gleefully shove that link in!

      Delete
  3. Yep, good work! I got back into the FF series about five years ago when a friend randomly emailed me a picture of the "Forest Of Doom" map, hoping it would cheer me up. Since then I've been working my way through all of them again (I'll leave the blogging to you guys though) and realise that despite all the nostalgia the map gave me this book remains one of the most disappointing, nay, feeble challenges in the entire canon. It was early days I suppose, a blueprint for some of the later adventures parts of which took place in a forest setting, "Portal of Evil" springs to mind.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, this one lacked the meat in the middle of the sandwich to make it appetising enough to recommend really. Apologies to the food analogy but I must confess I was hungry while writing this. Also, Portal of Evil was my first playthrough I did, if you fancy checking that out. If you already have, read it again!

      Delete