Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Your adventure ends here - snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Here's a crushing failure ending from the Crimson Tide by Paul Mason.


He leads you through the labyrinthine corridors of the palace until you come to an area of old dusty stonework.  He gestures you through the doorway, then tugs a lever.  The floor gives way; you are plunged into a deep, bone filled pit.  Pantu cackles an unnerving high pitched sound.  There is no way out of the pit; you are trapped.  Your adventure is over.

I like this paragraph because Mason makes you think that this will be the victory paragraph.  He places it near the end of your adventure under paragraph 400 - numericaly, the final paragraph in the book.
Traditionally, in Fighting Fantasy, 400 is the winning paragraph.  I'm guessing this is where this amusing Fighting Fantasy blog got its name from.  So this may be a surprise for people who check the ending first.

However,, this is also Fighting Fantasy 47 and the Crimson Tide was not the first book to have a non victorious paragraph 400.  Depending on your point of view, the first book to do this is either Demons of the Deep (FF 19) or Starship Traveller (FF 4).

Demons of the Deep is quite straightforward.  It has 400 paragraphs and paragraph 400 tells you about how delicious some crab meat is.  It's a nice treat but it's not victory by any means.

Starship traveller is the first book where the victory paragraph is not 400 because it has fewer than 400 paragraphs.  The victory paragraph is 340.  However, Starship traveller has 343 paragrahs - the last 3 give you rules for combat. 

However, this death is particularly crushing as I will explain below.

How did I get into this mess?

The killer with this paragraph is that up until this point, you do not think that it is a mess.  You have managed to cross the country, train in Baochou Monastery in accordance with your father's final wish, saved some peasants, obtained the Sacred Sword of Tsui, made friends with an ambassador and  made your way into the palace.

You are standing before the God King and he is offering you a high up positition in his Kingdom.  You are offered the choice of accepting his postition or turning it down.  Both options, however, lead you to 400 so it makes you think that you have won as you now have the God King's help to stop the mercenaries that slaughted your village and murdered your father before your eyes.

And then some official drops you into a pit. 

I was surprised, then annoyed, then impressed at just how Paul Mason had built your hopes up, gave you a tantalizing taste of victory and then dropped you into a pit of bones.  Brilliant. 

What have I learnt from this disaster?

I won't tell you how to get to the proper victory paragraph, but I'll tell you to follow the advice in the notes section of the rules and when you see the God King, make sure you know what all the options are.

As a writer, I have learnt that you can turn a reader's expectations on their heads make sure that they don't end up metagaming.  I don't feel cheated by turning to 400 to find out that I'm dead.  I guess it's because it just became an assumption of mine that the last paragraph is always the victory paragraph.  This means that Mason has a good understanding of the habits of gamebook readers.

Other news

I have ordered the first 4 Fabled Lands books from Amazon.  They have been republished and hopefully we will have books 5-6 too.  And if we're really lucky, we may get the six books that were intended to be released but never were.   

1 comment:

  1. the Crimson Tide was not the first book to have a non victorious paragraph 400. Depending on your point of view, the first book to do this is either Demons of the Deep (FF 19) or Starship Traveller (FF 4)

    You've forgotten about Scorpion Swamp (FF 8), in which section 400 (the last in the book) asks you to choose a spell to use against a hostile slime. Back in 1984, that was quite disconcerting.

    Which doesn't make Paul Mason's section 400 trick in Tide any less of a stroke of genius.