FF15: The Rings of Kether

David Anderson
Nicholas Campbell
Cromwell
Robert Douglas
Per Jorner
Jason Smith
John Stock
Richard Wood

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[David Anderson]

You are a futuristic narcotics officer looking to infiltrate and destroy the drug smuggling ring of the notorious Blaster Babbet.

The Rings of Kether is one of a handful of Fighting Fantasy books that forgoes the usual sword and sorcery to take place in the distant future in a far-flung corner of the galaxy. It reaches neither the heights of Rebel Planet or the depths of Sky Lord, but all in all I had a rather good time reading it. The investigation aspect isn't bad, although the settings could have been a bit more vivid. It's worth checking out at least once.

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[Nicholas Campbell]

With a title like that, you might think that this book is about collecting some magical rings, or something similar, but this is actually a science fiction gamebook, and the rings in question are drug rings. An illegal drug called Satophil-d seems to be originating from the Aleph Cygni star system, and since the authorities there can't (or won't) crack down on the drug runners, Federal Central (Vice) has sent an investigator - you - to infiltrate them and stop the flow of Satophil-d to other worlds under the control of the Galactic Federation.

Your mission starts on the planet of Kether. Arriving at the starport, you can make enquiries at the law enforcement headquarters or at the local bar. As you learn more, you can go to meetings with several other characters at various hotels, caf├ęs and restaurants around Kether's capital city, and follow up on the leads you obtain. There are also many locations to visit - a library, a warehouse, an asteroid which functions as a monastery (!) and a manor house are just some of the places you can go to find out more about the drug runners. Most of the ingredients of a detective thriller are contained within this gamebook.

The Rings of Kether is a little different from most other Fighting Fantasy gamebooks in that there are two endings, and what's more, there are countless different ways to achieve your goal. Most Fighting Fantasy gamebooks force you to stick to a specific path in order to complete it, but this isn't the case here, and that's one of the reasons why I like The Rings of Kether. It makes playing the book again more interesting, and finding the best way to complete the book is a challenge in itself.

However, The Rings of Kether has its flaws as well. As with most science fiction gamebooks, there are different types of combat, but unfortunately there aren't many opponents or spacecraft to fight during your mission. I would have enjoyed this book a bit more if there were a few more fights; surely a mission of this nature would require its fair share of combat! There is also a car chase section which is of little importance to the rest of the gamebook, but more than 50 references are devoted to it, which I think is far too much. There are very few items to collect, you can't increase your LUCK at all or use it in combat, and finally, the book is a bit too easy, which is mostly due to the lack of combat, but you also have a large supply of Pep Pills which boost your STAMINA by 6 points rather than the usual 4.

Science fiction books are generally not highly rated by most Fighting Fantasy fans, myself included, but of the seven science fiction gamebooks in the series, The Rings of Kether is certainly one of the better ones - but when compared with all of the books in the series, it's merely average.

Rating: 6/10

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[Cromwell]

I've always thought that Fighting Fantasy worked best with the medieval settings for some reason. I don't know why, but it just does. It's okay overall. However, it does have some failing. The 'Rings of Kether' deserves mention for being different and original. It breaks the mould to a degree by having the story centred around a science fiction adventure in outer space where your job is to smash organised crime rings. While the story is interesting and your character's investigation is well planned out and written, the book is let down by the feeble enemy right at the end which was a bit of a disappointment overall. However, an interesting quirk of this book is that there are two ways of completing the book successfully. This is an average book, but one of the better science fiction ones. Chapman deserves more credit that he usually gets.

5/10

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[Robert Douglas]

****

Many FF fans disapproved of 'science fiction'. They were either poorly written or didn't suit the general fantasy theme the series mostly published. However, only a few notable FFs of sci-fi nature made it through - 'Rebel Planet', 'Robot Commando', and the third: 'The Rings of Kether'.

Andrew Chapman's earlier attempts at sci-fi didn't go down well at all, so FF#15 was at first regarded with suspicion. However, he'd revised his methods at planning and concentrated on improving his reputation. Although there were no new rules as such, there was a lot more to the story itself, and some gripping moments. It's a classic whodunnit, where the reader (YOU!) decides which leads to follow - in this sense, it was admirably complex, just like a real crime thriller.

However, Rings of Kether lost one star due to the minimal number of opponents. I finished this book having fought about four or five encounters, whereas ten would have been nearer the required mark. Despite this drawback, I think this is perhaps Andrew Chapman's most involved gamebook, although the illustrations fail to complement this marvellous sci-fi adventure. Gary Mayes (ironically, illustrator of the doomed Space Assassin FF#12) would have been better suited to this one, as he definitely inspired Rebel Planet.

I suggest any late FF fans to buy this as one of the top three SF gamebooks around.

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[Per Jorner]

Many reviews of FF science fiction titles start off by pointing out that these were generally not successful; I don't really know about that yet, but when this space detective story came along it could certainly have been seen as a trend-breaker of sorts. It's not as disconnected as Starship Traveller nor as loopy as Space Assassin (with only a couple of weird aliens and a mention of the Scallopian Fang to hint that we're dealing with the same universe). Its approach was certainly novel to FF, and in fact the main part of the book plays rather like Appointment with F.E.A.R. minus the powers and need to keep track of your clues.

The variety of paths gives the book good replay value, and also means you can role-play to some extent: do you rely on checking archives and finding weak links, or do you stalk some likely suspects and pull out your gun at every opportunity? The style and dialogue snippets fit the subject well, at times bordering on hard-boiled. On the other hand the book is let down by silliness in its "dungeon" segments and overall forgettability. Once you get to the end, be aware that Andrew Chapman doesn't believe in lengthy endings; one of the two possible wins is potentially a little more gratifying, but it also makes less sense.

There's no particular need to cheat with your stats, although you are unlikely to win with Skill 7 or Shields 1. Blaster and space combat rules work well except for one aspect which in retrospect I found to be improperly handled.

One sf trend that The Rings of Kether _does_ continue is that the art should be boring, the serpentine monster for instance being a criminally silly rendition of something that should have been awesome. There are lots of straight lines drawn in perspective passing off as futuristic backdrops, framing people with scrawly faces or robots and machinery themselves composed of clean lines. Maybe like Kevin Bulmer he was pressed for time, or maybe he didn't ask a whole lot of money to do it; in any case, Nik Spender did not return to FF.

Notes: You don't have to pay any mind to the instruction to cross a spy beam off your inventory. In 109 and 304 I assume the word "permanently" means you should lower your Initial Stamina by the same amount. In 399 a little spacewalking is dangerous, in 73 a lot of it is not. Paragraph 346 should say 268 instead of 263. Paragraph 31 contains at least one physics goof, and in any case it doesn't seem the moon is so small that it would have been difficult to find a piece of it to land on where debris was not about to fall. Paragraph 269 points to 230 and 231. Paragraph 55 should say you need 1000 kopecks to attempt a bribe. Why can you add Satophil-d to your inventory in 205 but not in 28? The image for 178 should not have Babbet in it; the image of the electronic bug doesn't match its description at all.

Rating: 6/10

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[Jason Smith]

The Fighting Fantasy Gamebook concept always seemed to work better with medieval fantasy adventures, rather than science fiction. This is not to say that all science fiction based adventures were turkeys though. Fighting Fantasy number 15, The Rings of Kether, along with Fighting Fantasy number 18, Rebel Planet, were probably the best of the science fiction bunch overall.

Set far away in the Aleph Cygni system, in a science fiction, space travelling future. You assume the role of a Galactic Federation Narcotics Investigator, trying to investigate and smash the illegal Satophil-d smuggling rings of the planet Kether. Described as 'A dangerous undercover mission on a wild and lawless planet!', you've certainly got your work cut out...

After landing your spaceship at Kether's Spaceport, it's off investigating here and there, in typical Sherlock Holmes fashion. You start by checking out the bars for local contacts and information, spying on secret warehouse meetings, greasing palms with bribes, kicking smuggler butt and all that. All the while, trying to infiltrate the Smugglers' operation and find the 'Big Cheese' in charge of the whole show!

I've never thought that this book is that bad. While it certainly isn't on the same level as Fighting Fantasy number 5, 6 or other 'classics', Andrew Chapman made a decent job of it overall. Adding a novel twist, [there is] two possible endings to your mission, depending on which path you take!

I thought that the writing is not too bad either, the book moving along at a fairly comfortable pace. You also get a good feeling of being a Narcotics Investigator, or 'Fed', with a strong path of clues and leads to follow throughout the entire adventure. This tends to give you a sense of direction and purpose, making the whole investigation more realistic. If you want to read a Fighting Fantasy Gamebook, written in a similar vein, but not as good, try Fighting Fantasy number 27, Star Strider.

We also get a chance to explore two of the Smugglers' secret bases, take a spaceship ride through mine-infested asteroid field and drive in an interesting high speed road chase, in a car-like vehicle called a Sloop!

As usual, there are the bad points, one of these being the opponent strength. This adventure really isn't too taxing in that respect. You can get away with it most of the time, considering your enemies are infrequent and not very tough. You're also provided with PEP pills, which makes healing even easier.

Another thing that I didn't like was the weakness of the main enemies. When you do confront the 'Mr. Big', who controls the smuggling rings, and his overweight lieutenant, they're really not too hard to beat! Not only that, as you intend to arrest them, you have to fight them in hand-to-hand combat! Apparently because you can't risk killing them (gasp)! Maybe it's all that Orc slaying in other Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, but I'd have preferred to mete out justice in the typical 'blow 'em away' style!

One last thing I didn't like was the use of 'normal' names. I think that all characters in a futuristic, science fiction adventure, should have futuristic, science fiction names. 'Blaster' Babbet is ok, but Arthur and Clive... Doh! I felt that this only ruined the atmosphere...

Overall, I'd say that this Fighting Fantasy Gamebook is average, not bad, but nothing exceptional either!

Rating: 5.5/10

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[John Stock]

Ahhh... the unbounded joys of being an intergalactic narcotics investigator are brought home in this little package. Your job is to stop the flow of the illicit narcotic Satophil-d from Kether to the rest of the universe. And, given that Kether is "a wild and lawless planet", you've got your work cut out.

Landing at the planet's only city you begin your mission. And everything seems to be going as normal. That's until you run into "Blaster" Babbet and Zera Gross, Import/Export Inc. And you smell something ever-so-slightly fishy here.

Further investigations take you to the asteroid belt where you run into a very strange monastery which yields no clues. Then it's into orbit where one can do a spot of phone tapping like any true spy would. And from there, out to the tropics... And so it goes on.

Now one major gripe with this book is the character names. "Blaster" Babbet is okay, as is Zera Gross (which she is) but Clive Torus... cringe city! And don't get me started on the policeman who calls you "Mr Zero" instead of the traditional British policeman's "Sonny Jim"!

There are two possible endings to this book, and another gripe is the fact that one ending is a cracker, but the other is LIMP! Guess which one I finished with.

So, in all - not bad.

MY RATING - 7.6/10

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[Richard Wood]

By long tradition science-fiction Fighting Fantasy books are generally pretty mediocre, but this book by Andrew Chapman bucks the trend. The Rings of Kether has more in the way of plot than any other gamebook I have read (about thirty), and plenty of dialogue.

There are four or five characters who you can meet in various different ways and who are all conspiring with or against each other and who will use you as their pawn to further their own aims. Since there are several different routes through this book (some easier or more entertaining than others) it is possible to repeat this adventure more than once and discover exactly what has been going on "offstage" (ie. the bits you missed).

The fact that on the first reading you will not discover everything and will be a bit in the dark, together with the fact that you begin the adventure with no clues, gives the impression that you are an outsider meddling in things which you know nothing about, which is doubtlessly the feeling Chapman wanted to create.

In this book you play a federal police officer investigating a ring of drug smugglers who have corrupted the local police force. Since the local lads are not to be trusted you begin your mission undercover, although how long you remain undetected depends entirely on your abilities and subtlety.

Although the book is very open-ended in its structure, enabling you to visit different locations and follow various leads in almost any order and with little limitation on your choices, the book is not so easy that you can not fail on the first attempt. It is still possible to run out of clues and come to a dead end, and there are plenty of sudden death paragraphs for the unwary.

In addition to the normal FF combat you also have to deal with combat with firearms, which is faster and more dangerous than hand-to-hand. There is also ship-to-ship combat in space, and you have to roll for your ship's characteristics as well as your own. The showpiece, however, is the car chase, which is a very long and well thought-out scene involving a great many choices and possible outcomes.

This is not by any means the hardest gamebook in the series, but neither is it the easiest, and there is plenty to reward repeated reading, particularly if you managed to miss the car chase the first time around. This book makes all the other SF FF books a price worth paying, and is certainly Andrew Chapman's best contribution to the series by far.

Rating: 7 out of 10