Written by Keith P. Phillips, artwork by Pete Knifton.
Either way, even the cover was new to me, sporting a well-dressed elf type man, possibly a vampire, striking a dramatic pose. It doesn't look much like a siege, I must be honest. The book takes place in somewhere called the Forest of the Night, which sounds like the Forest of Doom's emo younger brother. I'm not going to complain though, I wore enough black in my teenage years.
On a quick glance through the rules section (which is all I do these days. I'm sure I've missed loads of important things in previous books due to this, but eh, re-reading all that stuff is just not interesting to me), this book has a time system which is based around the day of the week. You have bundles of herbs to use to heal yourself instead of food. It also starts you off with a bow, which allows you to fire arrows at an enemy. You roll to see if you hit or not, and seems that you're able to roll a set number of times before regular combat begins, so this acts as a way to take a few shots at the enemy before they can hit you. Got to admit, I like that idea a lot!
It seems that the elf city of Sardath is surrounded by a forest. Not just any forest though - an evil forest. Thing is, it didn't used to be surrounded by it. The forest has moved, possibly growing legs and strolling down the riverbank until it's got to the city, only then to start releasing poisonous spiders and ettins in the faces of the poor elves. My noble hero isn't from Sardath though, we're from another nearby city and I've been asked to go and help the elves out.
|Beware his wizardly powers to resist bathing!
I dread going into the forest, probably because I'm no doubt going to meet Radagast inside. I fear Radagast, as I tend to fear anyone whose headgear consists of bird dung. I'd suggest he have a bath, but I'd be worried that he'd trip on the soap while getting out of the bath, break his neck, and regenerate into Paul McGann the White. Speaking of wizards, I'm vaguely annoyed at the council's lack of wisdom in this matter, so I go to see the local astrologer, a powerful mage called Liam. Obviously Tim was busy.
Liam summons a Suma, a messenger being of the gods that I only recognise because it had an entry in Out of the Pit last week. The Suma tells me that I'll need to keep ahold of an amulet if I want to suceed in my quest, and that I should seek out a Khornu Wych. I'm not sure quite how much use a corny witch will be, so I just nod and play along. Deciding that it's best to get a move on, I head out of the city and come to the edge of the forest, where I see a travelling trader... and I'm reminded that the forest was meant to have cut off all trade routes. Suspecting another doppleganger, I have a pre-emptive attack, only to discover that the trader was not only an honest merchant, but a ninja as well. He pelts me with a glass jar of poison gas and vanishes into the distance.
|There is a Slenderman somewhere in this
picture, maybe. Can you see him?
The book scolds me for setting a camp fire and deducts a luck point from me for doing so, and during the night I am attacked by a giant spider that spits its webbing at me. That's not quite how webbing works, but because this is a children's book, we'll file that under suspension of disbelief and press onwards. I turn to the paragraph I was told to circle earlier on, and continue to sail down the river. While clearing some weeds off the boat, some of the weeds bite me and drain my blood. Apparantly it's a plant called bloodweed, and the book then asks if I want to chop it out of my way with my sword, or clear it away by hand. For a moment I suspect that this is a bit of an idiot test, but when I choose to chop it up with my sword, I am told that the bloodweed had already had enough to eat and it wasn't necessary to kill it. As a result, I'm told that the natural force of luck that I carry with me throughout my quest is diminished, and I lose another point of luck... Now wait just a damn minute here! Why am I being deducted luck points for making the careful choices here?
|"Death From Above!!"
Yep, I was unlucky. The frog-people are the next to scream 'Death from Above' as they hurtle all their spears at me, impaling me terribly. I do manage to survive though, with only five stamina points remaining. I hurry the boat along, while they give chase for a while, but they eventually get bored and let me go. Soon I reach another rope bridge. Checking my map, I think that hey, this is pretty good. I'm not far from Sardath at all now. Another day's travel and I'd probably make it. But I'm not in the best of shape, and there's a little town called Colhryn to the north-east that I can get to if I abandon the boat and travel by foot. I choose to go there, hoping to rest and heal up before I head to Siege-ville.
|Ooze zombies are the best zombies
Without having the chance to meet Colhryn, and realising that I've never met the corny witch that the Suma mentioned earlier, I decide to write off the day by curling up and getting some sleep. I'm awoke the next morning by a dwarf merchant riding a carriage along the road. Despite the option to flee into the street screaming at him about the horrible doom that has befallen Sardath, I instead choose to hitch a ride with him. Shortly down the road, though, he's eaten by a monster. Really, he should have known better. Anyone who joins you for an adventure in a Fighting Fantasy book is doomed to die terribly. I have the option to try to fight this giant monster, but given that I have single-digit stamina points and that the monster in question is described as 'Cthuloid', I decide that course of action would be suicide. The book suitably punishes me for my act of self-preservation by deducting yet another luck point.
|Sardath, the city under siege
The northern region of Sardath is surrounded by a rocky outcrop, and I find a dead dark elf on the outlying area. I'm asked to roll my skill, with a modifier dependant on the day of the week that it is. It seems that the later in the week it is, the more awful the result. I don't find anything on the elf, which is the best response. I'm assuming that the worst response is that it turns into a zombie and eats me. Either way, it is soon getting dark, and I've almost reached the entrance to Sardath proper. Yay.
Strangely, death by flying monsters this time.
This is a tricky book to review. On one hand, the atmosphere is fantastic. It's very well-written, feeling both exciting and dramatic at times, with a real sense of freshness to the prose. The storyline itself is simple, but it pulls it off brilliantly. As you'll have noticed, I took the route through the river, but there are others as well, so it feels nice and varied and you're rewarded by rich descriptions throughout. On the other hand, it's pretty brutal in terms of punishing the choices you make, and doesn't skimp on deducting luck points if it feels your choices weren't in keeping with what it wanted you to do. As a result, you can sometimes get into those horrible 'try to guess what the author is thinking' type of puzzles. Your character is meant to be a skilled ranger that is wise and skilled in the ways of woodland survival, but that doesn't mean that the player himself is!
These are flaws that can all pretty much be forgiven, though. And the book does invite repeated playthroughs, I really can't deny that. I'd like to play this again. Problems aside, it's very rich and definitely a lot of fun. I'd consider this one of the under-rated FF adventures, and if you can look past the flaws mentioned above then you're going to find this quite a noteworthy title!