Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Rather Childish Really

Martin Allen's Sky Lord is the only Fighting Fantasy gamebook I never acquired back when I was originally collecting the series. The cover illustration and blurb didn't make it look particularly appealing, and a more-detailed-than-usual look through a copy in the shop did nothing to convince me that it was worth giving the book a try, so I put it back on the shelf.

When I got back into gamebooks for good, I soon learned that Sky Lord was one of the least popular books in the series. My opinion doesn't always match up with fan consensus, so I decided to get a copy when the opportunity arose, just in case it turned out to be better than the crowd considered it. Not long after I got involved in trading gamebooks, one of my contacts in America acquired a duplicate copy of the book, and I picked up a Solve It Yourself gamebook he was after from a local charity shop to swap for it. Later that year I made my first trip to America, so to avoid the cost of international postage, we arranged for him to send Sky Lord and the other stuff he'd got for me in the interim (mostly DC comics) to someone I'd be meeting during my stay, and I took everything I'd collected for him in my luggage, and posted it to him while I was over there. The friend who brought me the book subsequently stuck wasabi-coated peas up her nose to see what would happen. I mention this odd behaviour because it's the sort of thing that would be offered as an option in the book.

Anyway, I had a quick diceless go at the book, and my character got devoured by a blob. Later I played it by the rules, and started to understand just why it has such a poor reputation. The system governing spaceship combat isn't the worst rule in all FF (that dubious honour probably goes to Chasms of Malice's One-Strike Combat), but it is ridiculously biased in the opponent's favour. And then there's the way that so many of the decisions are completely arbitrary, whimsical or utterly nonsensical. I think the furthest I've ever got through the book is being consumed by the same blob that brought my first attempt to an end because I grabbed the wrong random items while being pursued by it.

My character is a grey-eyed, four-armed being from the planet Ensulina, a veteran of military campaigns and secret missions, selected for a hazardous quest. Fugitive genetic engineer and cyberneticist L'Bastin has been traced to the artificial fortress-world of Aarok, where he seems to have succeeded in his goal of creating the perfect life-form, and is now cloning an army of dog-headed superwarriors for galactic conquest and revenge on former employer King Vaax. L'Bastin is one of the better elements of the book, with a more coherent motivation than most gamebook villains (initially just a curious experimenter, turning to crime to fund his research) and an entertainingly warped sense of humour (the first stage of his revenge after losing his job, home and laboratory involved grafting a pineapple onto the Queen's head - you'd never see the likes of Razaak doing anything that unconventionally nasty).

Aarok is one of those 'too well-defended for a full-scale assault, but a lone operative might just be able to get in' enemy bases, and as the best of the Knights of Ensulina, I've been selected as that operative. But what does the best look like?
Skill 11
Stamina 19
Luck 8
Rating 4
Rating indicates my degree of proficiency in starship combat, and I have the highest possible starting score. Which will still put me at a significant disadvantage in the first ship-based fight I get into, no matter what decisions precede the inevitable battle.

Anyway, I set off on my mission, and must choose a dimension through which to travel. If I pick the 6th dimension I'll have to deal with that blob again (assuming I last that long), but in the 4th dimension I'll wind up at a point where there's something like a 1 in 3 chance of having my ship blown up by an incompetent engineer (unless I die before that happens). Well, nowadays I'm more clued up on the blob's weaknesses than I was the last time it defeated me, so I'll risk travelling through light-space.

A short time into my journey, my ship is attacked by the creature from the cover illustration, a thrill-seeking Fahbad Redneck from the 33rd plane. Thanks to the imbalance in the rules, he has a 5 in 6 chance of hitting me each round, while the odds of my hitting him are just 50%. I only need to hit him four times to destroy him, whereas he needs to score six hits to blow me up, but that still puts the odds in his favour. And I only manage to hit him three times before he gets that sixth hit on me, so it's another rapid game over. My previous online attempt lasted a bit longer, but only a bit.

Not all bad reputations are undeserved.


  1. I'm pretty sure this one was a comedy gone wrong. So very wrong.

  2. Hi Ed, now that the Unofficial Forum has disappeared, what do you think about relocating at Alex's Fantazine pro-bpard ( It would a pity to lose your online contributions to the world of FF!

  3. So it has disappeared for good? WTF happened? Okay here might not be the right place to discuss this, so I might have to relocate just to learn the truth.

    1. I've just joined the board Paltogue mentions above. It's a bit quiet at the moment, but I imagine things will pick up more as refugees from the Unofficial Forum make their way across.

      There's a little information there on what happened to the now-defunct forum, and I think that is a better place to discuss it than here.

  4. Eight of the first nine books in the main FF series were set in what would become Titan, but only two of the next nine. At that point, I thought FF was going to be 50-50 fantasy and sci-fi, but obviously the publishers disagreed and the last two sci-fi offerings didn't help. Robot Commando is one of my favourite FF books, though and I really liked the Falcon series.

    It's a shame that sci-fi was abandoned completely as books like Heart of Ice show that they can be every bit as good and popular as their fantasy counterparts.