FF23: Masks of Mayhem

Nicholas Campbell
Robert Clive
Sagi Hed
Per Jorner
Will Turton (spoiler - win condition)


[Nicholas Campbell]

The evil sorceress, Morgana, is preparing to unleash her Golems upon Titan. She has made masks to fit on to eleven of the twelve Golems. These masks are based on special symbols known as sigils - but she lacks the twelfth sigil. You are the ruler of the city of Arion, in the north-east of Khul, and Ifor Tynin, your court wizard, has ordered you to travel north to Morgana's lair in the mountains of Krill Garnash, and slay Morgana before it is too late.

Masks of Mayhem is one of those gamebooks that takes you on an epic trek lasting many days across a wide variety of terrain, with lots of places to explore and characters to meet. Your quest takes you from Arion to the southern shores of Lake Nekros, where you can either head for Affen Forest to the west, or the hills to the east. Then you must head north to Fallow Dale to meet Lord Hever, who has a horn that your armourer, Kevin Truehand, has told you to obtain from him. After that, you must continue north through the barren Pikestaff Plain, cross a river, before finally reaching Krill Garnash and Morgana's lair. There will be a long journey ahead of you.

The area you can explore is very wide, and there are a lot of interesting characters to meet, such as the Wood Elves of Affen Forest, the mysterious Juja who lives in Marsh Vile, and Vashti the ageless. Robin Waterfield has also included a range of new monsters such as the Ice Hulk (a mutant Yeti with practically no intelligence), the Chion (a gigantic worm-like creature), a race of ugly fairies called Spriggans, who live in Affen Forest, and another race known as the Blackhearts (a cross between Dark Elves and Orcs).

However, Masks of Mayhem has some flaws, one of which I consider to be serious. In order to get the Horn of Hever, you must play a sub-game which involves chasing a Sabre-toothed Tiger through Affen Forest; only if you track down and slay it can you win this fabled horn. Unfortunately, the rules of the game are such that it is quite unlikely that you will catch the tiger, making the whole exercise rather pointless - and the horn turns out to be of little use anyway. The second flaw is that on Pikestaff Plain, you encounter a bush fire where you have a 1 in 3 chance of dying, regardless of your current scores. The third flaw is similar, in that you have a 1 in 6 chance of retrieving an object that is essential to completing your quest. Combine the second and third flaws, and you have a 1 in 9 chance of completing Masks of Mayhem, and that's before you have rolled your Initial scores. I eventually decided to cheat after about 25 attempts.

Without these flaws, Masks of Mayhem could have been an excellent gamebook. Instead, it's merely an average one - and I forgot to mention the final paragraph, which is just three lines long and very lazily written.

Rating: 6/10


[Robert Clive]

Masks of Mayhem is good adventure that pretty much represents the standard, medieval, sword play quest that makes the Fighting Fantasy series so successful and engaging to its audiences everywhere.

This adventure is set in a different part of the Fighting Fantasy world that hasn't been explored before. The task that has befallen you is a classic confront and destroy the evil villain role. However, Masks of Mayhem does stick in some interesting twists and turns.

You get to explore subterranean tunnel complexes, journey over a seemingly large expanse of terrain, encompassing forest, marsh, plain and mountain. You encounter interesting characters like your old squire and friend, Elves and a King. There are some good novelties added too, such as the Tiger hunt for the King and that potentially lethal plain fire near the gorge that you have to escape.

The only real problem I have with this adventure is the main villain, the REAL villain that is. This individual is too vaguely referred too in the text for my liking. Sadly, it took me years and the prompting of a friend before I came back to this book and sorted out who the back-stabber really was all along. However, I think it's an excellent, if somewhat cruel if you didn't pick it up, idea and a good twist right at the end.

First time I ever played this adventure; I dropped my guard and ended up in the belly of that sneaky, oversized, octopus! I think you know the one I mean Mr. Robin Waterfield. Ahem... :-)



[Sagi Hed]

Ok, first the plot: You are supposed to stop Morgana the witch from obtaining the 12th mask, from which she will create her 12th golem. With all 12 golems created from the 12 masks, she will be able to rule the world. Those are the basics. As for the rest, I must admit I am completely lost. There is something about the essence of everything in the masks and special people being the masks' signatures themselves, but I completely lost track of it. The plot does, though, progress very nicely as you advance (some books just stick to the background plot and have no plot advances), but it is very hard to really understand everything. In the end the plot comes to a awesome conclusion, though the final battles are not very hard (Morgana herself isn't that powerful). Also, there is an extra sub quest to find Haver's horn, which you don't have to take but it is very helpful and fun to go through. It features a very fun hunting game, which uses a game board (as one of the drawings in the book).

Second, the game design: Excellent game design. The book is quite hard, actually, and there are many things you must find to solve it. The critical items are very carefully hidden in the game, sometimes all too well, and not sophisticatedly enough. In some points you need nothing but sheer luck to survive (like the field fire), but these are always combined with some wisdom. The final riddle, though, is too much of a brain killer. The book is, perhaps, too hard on finding the true path, and too easy in the some of the actual battles (though to me, the harder the better so there is no "too hard").

All in all:
Plot: Excellent.
Game Design: A killer, in the good way.
Notable Features: Haver's horn sub quest.

Very recomended.

Rating: 9.0/10


[Per Jorner]

First let me gush a little on Russ Nicholson's art for this book. It's quite simply up there with the best gamebook art I've seen. I've never thought of his work in FF1-2 as brilliant, and in Blood Sword 1 I found it disappointing. Here it is crisp, detailed and well thought out. I have no doubt that it contributed greatly to my perception and enjoyment of the book.

I also fell for the overall mood of the setting; it's got a wild, mythological, Celtic feel to it, like a Corum novel. The land is pristine, uncharted, bespirited. You are the king (or queen) of a rustic realm that can be crossed on foot in a matter of days; when it is threatened by an evil witch, you send no one but yourself to sort things out. The creatures you come across aren't just bubble events waiting for you to show up, they all belong there. Did I mention Nicholson paints a beautiful window into this world and its wide horizons?

OK, maybe the background has a weak spot or two - surely not any magician who learns a little secret should stand to gain "power over all creation" by making golems who are "the essence of all things". But I'll swallow that (it will make a little more sense later on), and I liked the fact that the book sticks with the original FF formula: you get one potion, ten Provisions, no extras.

I really wish there weren't much more to add, but FF23 has one drawback: it's annoyingly difficult in ways that bring the dreaded Crypt of the Sorcerer to mind. Choices abound which will kill you off instantly (43 death paragraphs in all, many of which can be reached in multiple ways), and some are written as to ensure that most players will fall for them. There are several places where you cannot avoid having to Test your Luck or make some other roll to stay alive; in no game will you stand more than a 10% chance of winning. Dying can be OK if there's a point to it, but at times it's just "you fall down, the end" where there could just as well have been a Stamina penalty. MoM even goes a step too far in places trying to be vague and mythical, like in the section which reads in its entirety: "You walk off through the mist, which closes behind your back. You are never seen again, by man or monster, on this earth." Hello? I'm playing this guy, you can tell me what happened.

Food is handled in all sorts of ways. I decided on a house rule saying that when you are told that something bad happens if you didn't eat recently, you can do so immediately and avoid the bad thing. Paragraph 343 is just odd: if you have two or fewer portions of Provisions, not only do you lose Stamina but any remaining food as well, whereas if you have three or more nothing happens at all. Apparently you _can_ have your Provisions and eat them too. In paragraphs 156 and 248 Skill should probably be Attack Strength instead - only this time, it's more advantageous to take the book literally. "Three rocks" in 159 mystically become "four rocks" in 188. Just for the record I deplore the concept of "half left", though it was damn clever all the same. The final riddle (a meta-puzzle, really, but not a bad idea in itself) could have done with a slight adjustment, as you can be stumped even if you are on the right track.

I suppose the measure of a book is whether you want to go at it again and again, and I did. Not just to get it over with like FF26, but to see the quest to its end. Whatever you think of difficult books, this is definitely worth reading for the art and atmosphere and details. A pity about the severity; I could make a list of five to ten small changes that would have made Masks of Mayhem one of the major FF classics in my eyes.

Rating: 7/10


[Will Turton]

In my view, Masks of Mayhem is not a very good gamebook. I have a number of reasons for this but I will deal with them as they appear. Your role in this book: Ruler of Arion What???

This must be the only gamebook I have read where a king just wanders off into the wilderness, especially that of North-Eastern Khul. Normally, rulers get others to do their work and adventuring for them for they tend to have either retired from such acts (if indeed they were involved in the first place) or they were born into a sheltered life where they suffer no hardships. The Background is pretty laughable, especially the words of the Court Wizard "You must slay Morgana." (not a very original name) "You are the noblest ruler and the boldest fighter of the land. Only you can succeed." It seems strange to me that the wizard wants to parcel off the king to almost certain death (the sudden death references abound in this book!!-They might have well used the Forest Signs from 'Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail').

In any case, the penultimate sentence of the background is amusing. "His words have filled you with dread *and* eagerness". Is this possible? Surely a person who wants certain death should not be ruling Arion but that is beside the point. In any case, if I criticise everything, I will never finish.

The book does not start well, you can die on the third reference (sudden death). Well, the people of Arion are doomed. The problem is that the book kills you off continually for simply choosing A instead of B. If you ever get as far as an area called Fallow Dale, you will arrive at the castle of Hever who is supposedly your cousin. He then sends you on a little 'game' to kill a Sabre Tooth Tiger in order to get his 'magic' horn (a near useless artefact for there are so few creatures for it to be used upon). The Tiger 'Game' is the best thing in the whole book. In fact, if you don't collect two artefacts later on and obtain the aid of a spectral army near the beginning of the book, it is impossible. The ending is pathetic saying "Victory is yours. The Masks of Mayhem will not be released upon the land-at any rate, not in your lifetime..." And that's it!!

The only point that saves the book from being consigned to the dustbin is the illustrations by Russ Nicholson. Even with the map, they cannot cover the book's flaws. Steer clear of this if it is republished.

Score: 1/10