Friday 20 April 2018

The Second Swordsman - Cover-ing More of Khul

In this, his 15th Second Swordsman post, Malcolm Garcia returns to the dark continent of Khul...

The Second Swordsman - Cover-ing More of Khul

By Malcolm Garcia

Something synonymous with FIGHTING FANTASY adventures are the covers that adorn each book. From the infamous ones on Deathtrap Dungeon and City of Thieves to the oddness of those on (the original) The Citadel of Chaos and Spectral Stalkers, each promised a glimpse of what adventuring lay within. For this episode of the Second Swordsman I chose three covers that have, what I considered to be, quite interesting cover art.

Scorpion Swamp was decorated with the Pool Beast which was drawn by Duncan Smith, Beneath Nightmare Castle had the Spiked Maiden of prolific cover illustrator Terry Oakes, and Masks of Mayhem had John Sibbick’s Golem rushing at YOU through an underground cavern. Only two of these, the Pool Beast and the Spiked Maiden can you fight during the adventure, although with SKILL scores of eight and ten respectively that might not be the wisest choice. Coincidentally, all three books were set in Khul, a place I’d not visited since attempting the trio of Luke Sharp adventures set in the southwest of the continent. But would always choosing the second option give me greater success this time?

Robin Waterfield wrote Masks of Mayhem and the only book of his I’d tried previously was Phantoms of Fear (not being willing to sell a kidney to get a copy of Deathmoor) where I had met my end in a fight against myself. In Phantoms, following the Second Swordsman process had led me to the underground dream world of the Demon Prince Ishtra and so I had some hope that I’d get a fair way into this book. The background to Masks was a bit complex, but it boiled down to a ‘kill the big bad girl’ mission. I started with good SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK scores as well as the much-appreciated ten meals and a potion of strength (the second potion in the list of choices).

Very early in the adventure I reached Lake Nekros where, rather than going into the Affen Forest (which I’d explored previously in Phantoms and would have liked to return to) I instead headed into the hills. While circumnavigating the lake I managed to sprain my ankle in a rabbit hole and incurred a SKILL loss at, what I thought was, a very early stage in the book. Soon afterwards I then chose to go one way down a path rather than another and my adventure was suddenly over. No fights. No treasure. Just what must be one of the most enigmatic sudden deaths in FIGHTING FANTASY, “You walk off through the mist which closes behind your back. You are never seen again, by man or monster, on this earth.” Mysterious and memorable.

I then left northeastern Khul and went west, to the town of Fenmarge for the beginning of Scorpion Swamp. In the FIGHTING FANTASY series, this book was both the first to be penned by an author other than Ian Livingstone or Steve Jackson, the writer being the American Steve Jackson, and was also the first (of the fantasy adventures at least) to not be set on Allansia. With these firsts would Scorpion also be the first book where following the Second Swordsman process would be successful? The only other adventure of Jackson’s I’ve tried was Demons of the Deep, where I got a pretty long way before being slain by the STAMINA-supercharged Kraken.

While I started the book with a magic ring, I had no food and a poor LUCK score. Then, as with my attempt at Demons, choosing the second option meant I began Scorpion by ignoring opportunities to interact with the locals and learn something about my surroundings. This resulted in me paying no attention to talk of a group of wizards and choosing a quest. I hastily headed into the swamp, failed a LUCK test, and fell into a hole and died. No fights. No treasure. No spell gems. Just the final ‘told-you-so’ words of, “Soon, as the villagers predicted, only your bones are left, gleaming in the dim light that filters down between the trees.”

Not too far south of the place of my defeat in Scorpion lies the city of Neuberg, the setting for Beneath Nightmare Castle. This was the third book by Peter Darvill-Evans I’ve attempted – in Portal of Evil I was captured by a group of soldiers early on and in Spectral Stalkers I foolishly tried to swim through a moat of acid after wandering around aimlessly for far too long. The starting scores for my attempt at Beneath were promising, but in the background of the adventure YOU are captured and knocked unconscious. Given the choice between accepting or rejecting an offer of help from an unseen stranger, I chose the latter. And died. Again. And this time I set a record for the quickest failure in a FIGHTING FANTASY adventure – just one choice! My previous worst performance as the Second Swordsman was in Crypt of the Sorcerer (where I failed in two choices). This time there was no disappearing into the mist or a muddy hole, but instead the terrifying, “They kill you slowly and take ecstatic pleasure in your agonised writhings. You go completely insane before you die.”

Never before has choosing every second option met with such abject failures across a range of adventures. Even so, each of these latest poor performances proved memorable because of their suddenness, giving me a different experience than the occasional long and winding path to an inevitable and ignominious death (I’m looking at you Seas of Blood and Armies of Death).

Thank you  to Malcolm for another entertaining Second Swordsman blog post. Which titles will he be tackling next, in his ongoing mission to only choose every second choice in a FIGHTING FANTASY adventure? You're just have to keep logging on to to find out!

And remember, if you have any suggestions for items for the official Fighting Fantasy blog don't forget to get in touch via

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