Sunday, May 12, 2013

Fighting Fantasy: Creature of Havok

I took a long vacation from this series after my attempt at Deathtrap Dungeon went about as poorly as possible and ended in ignominious death from heat exhaustion. Since then I've been reluctant to try another from this series, perhaps because most of these books are poorly designed with item scavenger hunts, one true paths where the first decision you make causes you to lose but you won't know it for thirty minutes, and tough, unavoidable fights that insure if you had a poor initial roll-up you will die. For all these flaws, there is a certain perverse charm to this series and some of the books make up for your almost certain failure with creative ideas. "Creature" is one of these, because you get to play as a monster! You'll still die, of course, but on the other hand Monster Fudging Hero. Aw, yeah.

 Notary publics...of eeeevilll!!!!

Apparently there's a law of conservation of righteousness that states that for every way rad idea there must also be a total bummer, dude. In this book said bummer comes in the form of a twenty page introduction. I gave it a glance and said to myself "You know what? No." This decision was immediately vindicated by the author admitting on the last page that it's basically useless and might even work against you. In other words all of his lame fantasy novel ideas that publishers had rejected were vomited out in the literary equivalent of the solitary vice. Twenty pages of drivel like "Stittle Wood" and "The Innocent Traitor" and the big reward is a giant middle finger at the end. I really can't get over this. Introductions that are concise, well-written and relevant usually still seem unnecessary and this pile was none of the above. 

Suck it, Steve Jackson.

With the first enemy, the pointless background, soundly defeated I'm liking my chances. Until I roll up my creature and get the lowest possible Skill. This monster is apparently half-blind, clumsy and afflicted with sudden falling down syndrome. On the other hand I rolled a high Luck, so there's that. Also in combat if you roll the same number on both dice you automatically win, so that "Skill 7" isn't the automatic death sentence it would be in a lot of these books. Well, let's get this mother on.

I wake up in agony in some underground corridor. The presence of scales and spines quickly confirms I'm some terrible monster which, again, is totally awesome. I've got no memory and am totally disoriented and operating on instinct. See, this is a great opening. Why we needed a twenty page self-abuse marathon that I feel like tearing out of the book and feeding to a fire is again raised as a very valid question.

I encounter a dwarf and try to talk to him. In another cool bit his speech is completely garbled. After he takes a stab I crush his body, cracking ribs like "twigs." Don't get me angry, Gimli, bad things will happen.

Dwarves never seem to fare very well.

I try to leave, but my legs don't obey. Instead I search the body, ignoring gold as worthless and instead taking a piece of leather covered in incomprehensible script. I blunder around in confusion for a bit. Then I encounter your classic Fighter, Thief, Wizard adventuring party! I guess the Cleric is on sick leave or something. I immediately begin mauling a "hobbit." Man, this book is nothing but murdering Lord of the Rings characters. 

The hobbit dies easily and I interrupt an attempted spell by the magician via claws to the face. Then I roll doubles and one-shot the Knight. Total Party Kill! Their bodies are then devoured, restoring my health. Yes, these books were intended for a younger audience, why do you ask? 

Light Warriors? I, Skill 7 Monster Hero will knock you down!

I come across more dead bodies that are apparently being cannibalized by some invisible creature. I try to get out of there, which at least demonstrates an awareness of my limitations. Unfortunately, this attempt fails and I'm forced to battle Flesh Feeders (!!!) that at least have the common courtesy to "materialize" before attacking. The odd chivalry of the skin eaters allows me to eventually win the fight, but not before losing most of my stamina. Yeah, that low Skill is becoming an issue.

These guys would love this book. Well, not that b.s. background, but the rest of it.

More cannibalism of the corpse variety is attempted, but the "orcs" don't taste very good, as Gollum could have told me. Instead I open a flask, releasing purple gas. It forms into a face and mutters a paragraph of incomprehensible nothing. Still better than that twenty page introduction. For all this, I get rewarded with some "Luck." 

Following another hallway I quickly encounter more adventurers. Man, that evil notary from the cover or whoever owns this place should put down pest strips or something. This is ridiculous! The dice totally turn on me and I'm killed by some goof named "Strong Arm." So ends the amazing story of the dwarf crushing, dead body eating, purple gas confronting Monster Hero. You were too beautiful for this world, my friend.

 An ordinary, albeit strong-armed, guy who can kick a monster's ass.

Another short run. The dice absolutely hated me this time and in the end a run of bad rolls is tougher than any Creature of Havoc. Overall, this is a good one. I like how the dice direct your early decisions, but as you regain awareness you are allowed to start making your own choices. Playing a monster is fun, too, especially when you can wreck hapless J.R.R. Tolkien knock-offs with a single hit. I'd say check this one out, just be sure to skip that introduction!
Enter this death metal band's name to prove you're not a robot.

Aaron Zehner's first novel The Foolchild Invention is available in e-book format at and Barnes & Noble.

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