FF16: Seas of Blood

Gaetano Abbondanza
Robert Clive
Kieran Coghlan
Robert Douglas
Nicki Gray
Per Jorner
Robert La Vallie
Doug Riddell


[Gaetano Abbondanza]

An under-rated and under-appreciated adventure. This is a nice change from the norm (you get to play a greedy, bloodthirsty pirate instead of the normal save-the-world hero).

This adventure combines a contest (something I like) with a "pirate" setting (something else I like.) The pirate setting isn't so much the Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum swashbuckling type, but more of a mythical setting (the story contains settings, names, and situations from ancient summerian, babylonian, and greek myth).

There are many excellent and exciting encounters, and a host of sub quests, which are always terrific in a gamebook. There is also a gripping, unique battle sequence against a cyclops near the end of the story. The only negative is that you will have to roll up strong scores for both yourself and your ship to win through. I highly recommend that you acquire or re-visit this book.



[Robert Clive]

I've always thought that this Fighting Fantasy book was a bit underrated. After all, it's a truly original idea and the task you're given makes this adventure like nothing else in the whole of the Fighting Fantasy series. Andrew Chapman deserves more credit for this book. I think it was probably his best overall.

Basically, you play the role of a Pirate Captain in command of a scummy crew of salty pirates and a sailing ship! Your mission is to win a competition by sailing around a sea, plundering and amassing riches by the sword in the way that pirates always do. To win you have to steal more booty than you pirate competitor, whom you meet at the end. You have the added pressure of the entire competition having to be completed within a certain timescale.

Interesting mission, interesting encounters, nice illustrations and a good idea. Not a bad book.



[Kieran Coghlan]

At first glance, Andrew Chapman's third addition to FF looks like it is going to be great. For one thing, you play a bad guy for a change, and it immediately follows Chapman's Rings of Kether, one of the better and most entertaining FFs out there. Unfortunately, Seas of Blood doesn't live up to these high hopes.

As I said, the premise is great. You are a pirate and are competing with another pirate to see who is the best pirate in the area. To do this the two of you have fifty days to gather as much loot as possible and meet at a distant island. Whoever gathers the most loot is the better pirate. The book could have done with more encounters with your rival (the aptly named Abdul the Butcher), as you only really see him at the start and end. A few opportunities to sabotage each other would have added a much needed spark to the proceedings. As it is, you basically sail from one location to the next attacking ships and fighting strange beasts on desert islands. Nothing wrong with that, but it does get somewhat repetetive after a while. You have your own personal stats (Skill, Stamina and Luck as per usual) and your crew have 2 stats (Crew Strike and Crew Strength). Ship to ship combat is basically the same as one-on-one combat except Skill and Stamina are replaced by these 2 new stats. The two biggest weaknesses the book offers are that it is deceptively linear (although there are many routes to get to your destination, the vast majority of them will not let you get anywhere near enough loot) and that it requires your crew to have very good stats as mass battles are often difficult and the weaker your crew is the longer it will take to reach your destination. It is possible to replace lost crew members during the adventure, but doing so is often far too expensive to be worth it. Thankfully, the one-on-one battles aren't too tough, and there are plenty of opportunities to heal, so your personal stats do not need to be that great. However, there are a few tough enemies in here so a Skill of 7/8 probably won't let you get very far. By far the most memorable part of the book is an unarmed fight against a Cyclops towards the end. Rather than done by simply rolling dice, you must choose how best to strike your opponent (who takes some killing!) much like the system used in The Way of the Tiger series. It's an exciting battle and probably the only encounter likely to stick in your memory.

Andrew Chapman's writing style is the same as always; brief and with little description, but its fast pace makes it very exciting. Bob Harvey is not one of my favourite illustrators. I find his artwork a bit slapdash particularly the backgrounds, but his style does suit some of the monsters you will meet as well as the various piratical rogues in the book. The cover is pretty good though somewhat misleading, as the sea is not actually blood coloured. In short, there are a few enjoyable parts in Seas of Blood, and you do really get the feeling that you're a scurvy knave pilfering the plunder of the high seas, but after you have played it a few times and realized how much it relies on you having great crew stats and picking exactly the correct route to succeed you'll probably grow tired of it. As both this and Graeme Davis' Midnight Rogue are a bit so-so, it's not surprising that the majority of FF books kept the protaganist as a good guy.


[Robert Douglas]


While 'Space Assassin' (FF 12) failed and was blasted into space, 'Seas of Blood' fared little better in my eyes. During the mid-eighties, this gamebook probably had considerable support from devoted fans, but is by now quite a jaded adventure, a very faint memory of FF, compared to other classics the series had to offer. While parts of 'Seas of Blood' proved original and exciting, to me it has always been very average. While the additional features ('Ship Crew Strength' and 'Ship Log') were fairly exploited, with naval battles and a race against time, FF 16 somehow fails to hit the mark. Still, Andrew Chapman had improved slightly since his last sci-fi debacle. Worth 3 Stars - and no more! I'd advise new roleplayers caution before preparing to buy this very average FF gamebook.


[Nicki Gray]

Seas of Blood - despite its misleading title - was a breath of fresh air in a series that was in danger of becoming stale. Gone was the usual premise of "Kill-the-Baddie-who-seeks-World-Domination" or "Go-and-retrieve-the-artefact-that-was-stolen"; in this adventure you play a bloodthirsty pirate who plunders the cities around the Inland Sea of Khul, sparing no-one in your quest to become the undisputed King of Pirates - a title that would never be bequeathed, only earned.

Only one man stands between you and the title - Abdul the Butcher. A pirate as ruthless and cunning as yourself. Finally a wager is agreed upon, the pair of you will have 50 days to plunder as much booty as you can between Tak (the start-off place, and your home-town) and the Isle of Nippur (the finish).

Suffice it to say, I enjoyed this book immensly! Finally, a chance to be as daring, as bold and generally as BAD as you wanted to be - should I sack that Monastery, steal the monks’ treasures and capture some as slaves? Why yes, I believe I shall!

The book also introduced a slightly different take on the usual Combat System - as well as your own SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK, you also had to roll stats for your crew. These became STRIKE and STRENGTH and would determine how well your crew would perform in large-scale combat. The STRIKE was the crews’ SKILL and STRENGTH was their STAMINA.

The only problem I had with the book - and it was only a small problem, more a niggle in fact - was something I discovered the first time I played it. I had had a jolly old time, wreaking havoc and generally looting and pillaging to my heart’s content and had amassed what I considered to be a sizeable fortune in gold and slaves, only to discover - to my immense chagrin - that to determine the total of your wealth, you had to halve it!!! Thus you would end up with 300, 350 or 400 - no prizes for guessing which reference made you the victor!

While others have criticised this gamebook, I personally recommend it to anyone who wants a change from the norm and would award it...

Rating: 7.0/10


[Per Jorner]

This is the first and only pirate FF, unless you count brief appearances (e.g. FF7 and most notably FF19) and the yet-to-be-seen Bloodbones. Appropriately, the setting is more reminiscent of the ancient Mediterranian and the Arabian Nights than the Spanish Main. You play a pirate captain who has engaged in a plundering bet, and are just setting out to do what you presumably do best.

There are new rules for your crew, with values for Strike and Strength. Trying to figure them out can be a little confusing, as apparently both of them represent abstract measures of crew quality and morale. Strength is the one that goes down as you take casualties and up when you hire new hands (or find booze!). Crew Strike, on the other hand, never changes even if you're down to a few points of Strength; I suppose it's true that leadership and training means more than numbers. Note that there is one difference between normal and large-scale battles: your crew cannot Escape unless they win an Attack Round. Then again, who ever Escapes anyway?

Clearly ambiguous is the rule for restoring Stamina over time. It can be interpreted to mean that you gain 1 Stamina for every day that passes as you travel - but it can also be interpreted to mean you must sacrifice 1 day for each point of Stamina and do _not_ regain Stamina while travelling. I stuck to the former version, as the tight time constraint would make the other unusable.

I will say straight away that I did not find Seas of Blood particularly charming or exciting. The flow of events is often random, sketchy and mechanical. The different levels of design conspire to make you feel like something less than a renowned and resourceful raider on top of his profession. For instance...

* There are numerous wild goose chases and places where you find nothing but death or dust. This may be realistic, but it's not very rewarding. This is a treasure hunt; overcoming large obstacles or getting to use an item only to gain nothing is simply disappointing. Little things like hiding a pearl under a rock would give the player some small sense of accomplishment every now and then. (In paragraph 320 you do find a single gold ring, but it appears to be worthless.)

* You are almost consistently punished for exploring. Gamebook players are conditioned to pull levers, lift trapdoors and so on, and Chapman exploits this to the gory maximum. Many failures are needlessly harsh, unpredictable or even silly, making you and your crew look like fools. I count 40 instant deaths, not including having too little gold or time at the end. That's a tenth of all paragraphs.

* I am of the belief that any book which is long on paperwork should be short on sudden death, because the opposite amounts to a slap in the player's face. Seas of Blood is more of an annoying smirk. Because of the difficulty, you will play many games where you amass gold and slaves and then die without knowing if you're doing well or not. Finding new gold is satisfying, but getting old gold is for the most part inconsequential; you'll probably be wiping your Adventure Sheet clean a few paragraphs further ahead anyway. Yet there's seldom an option to ignore a site and sail on to unexplored areas.

* Success hangs vitally on your initial ability scores. You may be able to live with Skill 10, but Strike should be 11 or preferably 12, as there are several Strike 9-10 opponents you simply cannot afford to lose more than a couple of Crew Strength points to. You must retain a high Crew Strength at the end of the book to have a good shot at winning; roll a low initial Strength and you are toast as well. Even with decent stats you can still fail because of a single unlucky roll against Skill, Luck or Crew Strength.

* Time and distance don't always go hand in hand. In two places you spend days rowing upriver, but going downriver takes no time at all. Sailing to Shuppurak takes the same amount of time whether you go east or west of the Island of Volcanoes. In paragraph 238, if you "speed towards Nippur" it will take you two days longer to arrive there.

Sadly, the technical bit is not all that's disappointing. Seas of Blood is simply poorly written. It's dull and uninspired, and there are so many examples of lazy and nonsensical design as well as wasted opportunities for flavour. For instance...

* Most places you go, you haven't the slightest idea what you'll find there. Why is that? Why shouldn't you know whether there are settlements beyond the Rivers of the Dead? Why shouldn't you know who rules the island of Trysta? Why shouldn't you at least have an inkling of what's to be found on the largest islands in the Southern Sea? Isn't this your back garden, haven't you spent _years and years_ traversing these very same waters? Maybe some pirates wouldn't look beyond the rim of the closest rum keg, but surely the _best_ pirate would?

* You are given the choice to fire flame arrows at a fortified monastery. You decline, thinking it unnecessary to torch the place you intend to loot. Once the fighting is over, you are told that your "over-exuberant" crew set fire to the place, destroying most of the booty. Who are these goons? Who's in charge of them?

* You climb a volcanic island to the fabled nest of the Roc. What do you find there - hatchlings? Elephant bones and ivory tusks? Rubies the size of melons? Melons the size of grapefruits? No, you find the entrance to a stupid mini-dungeon. How lame is that.

* You and your crew fight a momentous battle against the most fearsome of beasts. If you win, the next paragraph asks: "Do you want to sail to X or to Y?" Not a single word to acknowledge what just happened or what came of it.

* When you reach Nippur, the final destination, you are told that to reach the mountain where Abdul is presumably waiting, you must fight a Cyclops to pass a wall. Why is that? What is this wall? Where did it come from? Why can't you shrug and wait for Abdul down at the beach? There are no answers.

* When you're done counting gold at the very end you are simply told "Abdul weeps. You win" or "Abdul laughs. You have lost" - bleh.

Are there good things to be listed? Nothing significant, really. The cover is cool and reminds me of Kevin Jenkins' cover for the Citadel of Chaos reprint, but that might just be because they've both got a Hydra on them. There's a way in which you can improve your initial Crew Strike that I found somewhat amusing. The fight with the Cyclops is a decent idea and reasonably exciting the first time around, although I wouldn't necessarily say it was 32 paragraphs' worth of fun; a problem it shares with many encounters is that it could have been so much more if it had been staged and handled with some colour and vigour (the multiple cat fight is another idea which stops dead in the water, so to speak).

I would agree that the basic concept, a gold hunt odyssey, is a good idea. Since you're looking for riches in general and not specific items, this would have been a good opportunity to allow for multiple paths to victory, letting the player customize his plundering. But if you want to minimize the impact of luck the book becomes in effect another narrow-path scavenger hunt, whose solution approximates a mathematical exercise.

In fact it seems incredible that the protagonist should be one of the top two buccaneers of his time, considering his penchant for ignoble death and the ineptitude of his crew. No doubt Abdul is the one who deserves the title - he _always_ gets there with the goodies! (Of course, it's possible he staged the whole thing and hid his treasure on Nippur in advance.) One point of the rating is for the theme and setting, and none is for penguins - there aren't any. There's even a great bloody iceberg to put them on, but noooo... let's not include any Antarctic birds to enliven an otherwise dreary adventure!

Rating: 4/10


[Robert La Vallie]

The Seas of Blood is Water Logged

What drew me to this book is the idea of traversing through an ocean of ruby-stained waters.  Unfortunately, this is not the case. The title is misleading. And if you enter this sea voyage expecting thrills and chills on the seven seas, you will be sorely disappointed.

You play the role of a cutthroat thief. On the isle of Tak (isn't that from a Dr. Seuss book?) there is another cutthroat thief. The problem is that both of you want to claim the mantel of the biggest cutthroat.  So, what to do?  Ah, instead of having one battle where the loser gets his throat cut (that would be TOO easy), let's sail from Tak to Nissur (I own a 1996 Nissur Sentra), acquiring gold along the way.  Whoever acquires the most gold in fewer than 50 days is the biggest cutthroat.  Does this make sense to you?  Getting gold is equivalent to being a cutthroat?  Don't worry, if this is illogical to you; you're not alone.

And so you hop from island to island, re-enacting a macabre form of Jules Verne's "Around the World in 80 Days," until you reach Nissur (which, incidentally, gets great gas mileage on the highway).  Then, you open up your gold chest, and your arch-rival opens up his gold chest.  Whoever has more gold is the biggest cutthroat.  And the book ends.

Rather than describe all of the bad things in this book (the ease of acquiring gold; the lack of challenges; and the anti-climatic ending, to name but three), I will cover some of the good aspects of The Seas of Blood.  First, the concept is a good one.  However, the fact that you see your competitor only at the beginning and at the end is a letdown.  Also, the battle with the cyclops toward the end of the book is ingenious (the one battle that is worthy of being called a Fighting Fantasy battle).

Alas and alack, the favorable aspects of this book are too few and far between. Overall, if you are a Fighting Fantasy fanatic, and you need to collect every book in the series, this review will not deter you.  On the other hand, if you prefer to read the creme de la creme of Fighting Fantasy, let The Seas of Blood sail off into the sunset.

Rating: 5.0/10


[Doug Riddell]

Just like "Space Assassin" Andrew Chapman has once again thrilled fans by coming through with great innovative ideas, appealing to new desires of Fighting Fantasy fans in the 80's.

This adventure takes place in Titan on the Inland Sea at the south of the giant dark continent known as Khul. However the Inland Sea is so large it may as well be the high seas. High seas populated by many Eastern-Meditterean "civilised" and/or unfriendly city-states. Who hold large navies and trade in gambling and slavery. But the most common trade and past-time in this hive of scum and villiany is piracy.

For years two pirate captains from the nothernmost city of Tak have terrified sailors and merchants with their daring and bloodlusting raids. One is Abdul the Butcher and the other, my friend, is you. (Don't feel too sorry for the victims of your attacks however, everyone on the seas in this part of the world is just as bad as each other.)

As you can see this adventure is rather different from regular FF books where one is the hero rather than the chief villian! Never-the-less it is very impressive and was a welcome addition to a series which had begun to lose its momentum around about his time. A very good effort by Andrew, which is also shown in his wonderful and deadly world of rival pirates, tropical islands, stormy seas and monster-infested waters. Something in it for every fan of pirate tales.

Anyhow the mission in this book is to engage in a wager with Abdul. The two of you have 50 days to sail to the very end of the Inland Sea. Looting and stealing as you go. Whoever has the most gold when the 50 days are over wins. And is crowned with a new title: King of Pirates! Of course it won't be easy, many traps await the unaware rooky sailors and new adventurers trying to get their feet wet (joke).

Rating: 8.0/10