Do you remember those rumours of multiple choice tests where the answer was the same for every question? Malcolm Garcia has set himself the challenge of reaching the fabled paragraph 400 by always choosing the second option...
The Second Swordsman – The First Three
By Malcolm Garcia
I don’t remember buying my first Fighting Fantasy book. What is stuck in my memory is that I was the second in my family to get one. My younger brother bought the Warlock of Firetop Mountain at a school book sale. It was at some point after this that I got the Citadel of Chaos, with its much maligned cover art. As the second in my family, to get book number two in the series, I wondered what would happen if I tried to play through the Fighting Fantasy adventures by always choosing the second option. Would I succeed, or would I fall victim to a range of traps, creatures or sudden death situations?
There would need to be some qualifications to this process. If the second option required me to have previously acquired something, for example a key, gemstone, password etc, I could only choose option two if I had it. If not, I must choose the next available option. Also, if I returned to a paragraph where I’d previously chosen the second option, I’d have to choose the next available option to avoid getting stuck in a loop. And when I was asked to test my SKILL, STAMINA or LUCK, option two would only be chosen if that was the result of the test.
For my first attempts at using this Second Swordsman process, I tried the first three Fighting Fantasy adventures – The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, The Citadel of Chaos, and The Forest of Doom.
So how did I fare – was it jewel-encrusted glory or abject failure?
Unsurprisingly, I didn’t succeed in any of the three adventures – I didn’t get Zagor’s gold, or kill Balthus Dire, or return the hammer to the dwarves of Stonebridge. But I did get a surprisingly long way into each of the adventures. In Warlock, using this process got me across the river, which runs through the middle of Zagor’s dungeon, although I was killed soon afterwards by a Minotaur. In Citadel I had started ascending the tower of the castle; but I fell to my death after being scared by the mysterious Ganjees. And in Forest I was able to get through Darkwood Forest and to the outskirts of Stonebridge, but I didn’t manage to collect either half of the legendary hammer, and I was then killed by a storm of arrows which accompanied an unlucky dice roll.
I also learned that, more often than not, choosing the second option meant I avoided investigating places where I may have gained some knowledge, an artefact, or found a creature against which to test my swordsmanship. In Warlock I ignored a total of nine doors before crossing the river – although once I did get to the other side I found some treasure, drank holy water and discovered an interesting parchment. But I also opened a door to find the aforementioned Minotaur, who ended my adventure prematurely. In Citadel I paid no attention to a mysterious temple with interesting liquid and gremlins, avoided treasure guarded by a Golem, and rushed through a lavish dining hall. And in Forest I didn’t investigate any of the caves, holes, tree houses, magicians, or interesting noises that I came across. Because of this I didn’t learn or acquire much of value in any of my adventures – I had no idea what I would do when I encountered Zagor or Balthus Dire, and I found neither of the two halves of the dwarves’ hammer.
The Second Swordsman process also meant I did some pretty foolish stuff. This included trying to use a wooden stake to vandalise a portrait of Zagor, sneaking into Balthus Dire’s Citadel by first threatening his guards and then magically floating over the castle walls, and I started my adventure in Darkwood Forest by preparing to attack the wizard Yaztromo. Luckily none of these acts of stupidity proved immediately fatal. Indeed I was surprised, and impressed, that even though I dutifully followed the process of choosing the second option I didn’t fall foul of an early sudden death where I should have made one choice rather than the other.
It was only in Warlock that my journey ended in combat. But in all three adventures I usually only fought creatures that were unavoidable, rather than attacking them by choice. While looking for secret passages in Warlock I was attacked by wandering monsters. In Citadel both the Rhino Man and Wheelies had blocked my onward passage. And in Forest the Giant Spider had waited 'til I was asleep before ambushing me, and the Death Hawks swooped down from above while I was minding my own business.
So, while the Second Swordsman process did not lead to glory in the first three Fighting Fantasy books, I’ll see if I have some different outcomes when I next grab my sword, backpack, and pair of dice for some new adventures.
Thank you to Malcolm for his blog post. What do you think of his challenge? Have you tried anything similar? Why not post your comments below?
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