FF26: Crypt of the Sorcerer

Nicholas Campbell
Robert Clive
Per Jorner
Robert La Vallie
Phil Sadler
Laurence Sinclair




This is one of those choose your own adventure books which is more of a roleplaying game than a novel. You read the passages of the book to create your own journey. It's all quite smart and well thought out by the authors who've made a book computer game in a way.

Crypt of the Sorcerer is a good example of this sort of thing but it's very hard. I'm not saying that it's impossible or that it doesn't make the game fun, but there's so much to learn and find that it's a real epic of a book.

The writer has put in every intelligent twist and trap he can think of, so I think it's one of the top ten of the series. Although your mission is to assassinate a powerful wizard, there are smaller missions that you must undertake to get loads if objects to defend yourself and attack him with.

Very good, but quite hard. First time readers may find it a bit difficult and have to play it numerous times until they find a way through, but it's rewarding and well worth it.

It's one of my favourites; the balloon and the colleagues who you meet on your adventure are entertaining.


[Nicholas Campbell]

Somewhere in the mountains to the west and north of the Flatlands, the evil necromancer Razaak is preparing to take over Allansia. The land around the Flatlands has become blighted and diseased. You set off to meet the famous wizard Yaztromo, and he confirms that Razaak is the source of this blight. The story of Razaak is long, but he was slain more than a century ago by a warrior named Kull. The necromancer could only be defeated by his own sword, which Kull had found while crossing the Lost Lake in the Moonstone Hills - but after Razaak was slain, Kull became a skeleton, and spent the rest of his existence sailing on the lake, clutching Razaak's cursed sword. Now Razaak has arisen once more, and this time, he must be destroyed once and for all!

Crypt of the Sorcerer is written by Ian Livingstone, and as with most of his gamebooks, it's a rather linear affair in which you must collect lots of items and memorise lots of numbers for the confrontation with Razaak. Ian seems to relish the challenge of writing difficult gamebooks, but with Crypt of the Sorcerer, he took this to extremes and made it so difficult that any sane player is going to cheat sooner or later when he or she realises that the odds are stacked so much against them.

There are several situations where you must roll a die and hope that you roll successfully (e.g. 1-2); if you don't, you die, or lose SKILL points. There is a combat where you must roll a die after every Attack Round; if you roll a 1, you die. Then there is the final combat with Razaak himself. If you somehow manage to make it this far, you're in for a big shock. As if a SKILL of 12 and STAMINA of 20 wasn't tough enough, you die if he wins two Attack Rounds in a row! Furthermore, you get no bonuses to your Attack Strength for possessing Razaak's sword, and your LUCK will be so low by this stage that you won't want to risk using it!

Theoretically, Crypt of the Sorcerer is not impossible to complete, but assuming that you start with maximum Initial SKILL and STAMINA scores (i.e. 12 and 24 respectively), I have calculated the chances of reaching Razaak with a current SKILL of 12 at about 2.5%, and the chances of winning the combat with him at about 5.5%. Combine these, and your chances of completing Crypt of the Sorcerer are less than 1 in 700. Yes, you read that correctly.

The difficulty level completely ruins what was already a fairly average gamebook by Fighting Fantasy standards. There are many friendly companions to meet who will follow you on your way to Razaak's lair, and the journey to the Lost Lake and back is a long one, encompassing several different types of terrain, but Crypt of the Sorcerer has obviously not been playtested properly - or even at all. This is a fine example of how not to write a gamebook.

Rating: 3/10


[Robert Clive]

Crypt of the Sorcerer is an excellent book in the series. However, I would agree with the previous reviewer's comments that it's a bit unbalanced to been exceedingly hard, if not impossible! The end villain is almost unbeatable after all the trails and challenges of the adventure itself. This book would've been better if it was a little more balanced overall.

Saying that the book is well written, interesting, full of great encounters and has great artwork internally and on the front cover. The idea of having some allies accompanying you was cool and is executed well. A great book that deserves a higher rating.



[Per Jorner]

Razaak has upped the stakes a bit when it comes to wizard-slaying. Far from being content as a reclusive dungeonkeeper like Zagor or a local warlord like Balthus Dire, this guy wants to kill off everyone and everything. He's already tried once and was defeated against all odds; this time he's not gonna throw the game. Conveniently enough (for him) he can only be killed using a combination of two unique, powerful items, but if you think those are all the items you're going to need, you don't know Ian Livingstone very well...

In some ways this book is reminiscent of Caverns of the Snow Witch. You travel cross-country, visit the Moonstone Hills and pop into an underground tunnel or two. You pick up two companions along the way who are not unlike Redswift and Stubb. There's an ancient curse involved which threatens to kill you off. As you set out on the quest to find the magic sword, knowing of the fate which befell its previous owner, there is something of an epic sense to it all. A long string of mostly unconnected and unfairly dangerous encounters later, having visited locations which are nowhere near as atmospheric as the mist-shrouded hills, little remains of this feeling. Crypt of the Sorcerer is quite simply a shining example of how not to orchestrate an item hunt.

Where Steve Jackson's books are about figuring out which encounters and fights can safely be avoided, this one is all about _seeking_ conflict, because everyone you meet can and does hide some item necessary for survival thirty paragraphs later on. Often you don't realize this until you reach that point and are asked to produce a thingy you've never heard of. So, you don't have the charred rag doll needed to pass the Flogazazolk? Well, better start over then - try burning down the orphanage next time. The eponymous crypt at the end of the book is unintentionally parodic in this respect. If you don't have a pink platypus... you DIE! If you open the blue door... you DIE! As you're walking down the corridor... you DIE! If you don't know how many drops of water fall down the Niagara Falls in a year... you DIE! Did you have a pink platypus after all? Then DIE! It's not very funny if every new game lets you proceed no more than two or three paragraphs before ending in yet another instant death, and you will probably feel compelled to cheat so that you can at least uncover two new ways of dying in each game. Of course you're _forced_ to take the bait, because you _know_ by this time that every option offered by the book can be ultimately vital as well as instantly fatal; and so these deaths become arbitrary in the worst possible sense, teaching you only about the whims of the author. Again compare this to a book like Creature of Havoc, where each death in some way feels like a reward.

The need to fight everyone and everything, exposing yourself to risks and penalties that would in another book serve as a hint that you should be doing something else, also adds ridiculously to the difficulty level. Needless to say you have to fight several Skill 9-10 enemies. Needless to say you have to roll the dice several times to see if you lose Skill or perish where you stand. The final battle against Razaak is beyond ludicrous: you have to defeat a Skill 12, Stamina 20 creature without losing two consecutive Attack Rounds, at a stage where your chance of retaining your initial Skill is about 15%. Huh!? A numerical estimate shows that you have at the very most a 10% chance of reaching the final battle without dying or losing more than 1 Skill, and a simulation reveals you have a 2% chance of defeating Razaak (this number basically depends only on your Skill as he always kills you using his special ability before he has a chance to wear your Stamina down). Putting these numbers together we see that you have at best one chance in five hundred of beating the book without cheating if you follow the true path with a Skill 12, Luck 12 character. Is this a good thing? If your answer to that is "yes", then you are wrong.

Crypt of the Sorcerer has the disconnectedness and linearity of Island of the Lizard King coupled with the stiffness and severity of Trial of Champions, and yet the comparison is unfair to either of the other books. The final paragraph is puny and pathetic, tossing an important part of the storyline aside with casual disregard for the reader. Avoid this book.

Rating: 2/10


[Robert La Vallie]

For those of you who are familiar (and even those who are not so familiar) with Ian Livingstone's writing style, your character's job is to collect an assortment of artefacts. Without these artefacts, you cannot complete the quest. So, in Crypt of the Sorcerer, be prepared to have your character strain his/her back in lugging around a plethora of required items.

Another trademark of Ian Livingstone is that he uses the numerical value of certain elements as page references that you need to turn to in the future. And, yes, Crypt of the Sorcerer does not fail in this department either.

Finally, a book written by Ian revolves around a simple quest. Here, your task is to slay Razzak the Necromancer. Why, you may ask? Well, Razaak is evil, pure and simple. And your job is to kill evil monsters. Besides, do you really need a reason? Let's face it, if you are reading a Fighting Fantasy adventure, and you are asking the reason for slaying the monsters, well, pilgrim, you're in the wrong world. Go read some sappy Nancy Drew tripe.

And so, you proceed over to Razaak's domain, acquiring the much-coveted items, and meeting cool friends along the way. A little hint: useless balloon conversations are very useful indeed. As I stated, you meet cool friends. I mean, wouldn't you want to have a friend with a name like Borri? Go into a bar, and pick a fight. If someone messes with you, simply say that "you mess with me; you mess with Borri."  Cause believe me, my brothers and sisters, nobody wants to mess with someone named Borri. Nobody.

So, if you want to read a Fighting Fantasy adventure that you will not want to put down, Crypt of the Sorcerer is for you. Also, if you like Fighting Fantasy books where you are required to collect many items, Crypt of the Sorcerer is made for you. You will enjoy this book.

Rating: 9.5/10




Having read most of the books in this series, I have yet to find one more difficult than Crypt of the Sorceror. There is only one successful path through the adventure (yielding all the items needed for the final battle), and it requires beating several extremely strong foes (a SK 12 ST 24 Pit Fiend for instance - with stats equivalent to the highest a player could possibly roll) and making several lucky rolls (such as avoiding a skill penalty in the first encounter!). The book is thus effectively impossible to beat "fairly" (without "cheating" at roles, fights or stats).

This aside - finding the right path is an intriguing challenge, with a lot of different path options at various points. The detail of the fantasy scenario is also very effectively constructed; the reader is drawn into the plains, pits and dungeons of the adventure, and there are some unusual monsters along the way too. Very well written, but I'd have preferred if it were somewhat less frustrating to play.


[Phil Sadler]

Some of you may of read my review of Ian Livingstone's Forest of Doom book and remembered how I accused it of being far too easy, don't worry, that's one thing I'll never accuse this book of being!

The thing is, this is the most unfair and unfairly difficult book I have yet read. It's not just that you'll need very high stats to stand a ghost of a chance of beating it, oh no, you'll need a lot of dumb luck too. Allow me to explain why:

There is, right at the very start, a good chance that you'll lose 1 or even 2 skill points It's almost impossible not to lose (and not regain) at least a further skill point later on A little later you quite simply must lose 3 luck points - all 3 in the same section!

I started the book with 12 luck and only spent 1 or 2; I had 4 at the end! There are several skill 10 enemies you'll have to face and also there are several annoying 'stupid dice' tests (you're killed on the roll of a 1 or 1-2 on one die).

Within the book there are also a truly terrible ammout of instant deaths, epecially at the end where every choice has a 50% chance of killing you and almost every single item you come across must be collected (hardly any red herrings what so ever).

All of the above sounds pretty bad, right? Well, they're a piece of cake compared to the final enemy you must face - Raazak - whom I was disgusted to find had a skill of 12 and a stamina of 20 and, don't forget, you're bound to have lost a least a couple of skill points (and countless luck) before you meet him. Worse still, if he hits you twice in a row... you die!

I'm sorry, but this book makes even Island of the Lizard King look fair and makes Deathtrap Dungeon seem easy but they, unlike this book, were good! They rarely annoyed and were fun to read. This book was not.

Overall grade: 4 (out of 10)


[Laurence Sinclair]

The long dead necromancer Razaak has been awoken, and is poised to destroy the world. Once more, it is only YOU that can save Allansia from his dread evil. But for once, the Gamebook lives up to its epic premise.

Various plot threads, an appearance by Yaztromo, companions that help you along the way, a journey across the length and breadth of Allansia and an ancient curse to deal with as well as Razaak himself make for one hell of a book. Granted, being by Ian Livingstone you are required to gather various mysterious artifacts to destroy Razaak, but never before has it seemed so... big.

I don't know what it is that grabs me about this book. Perhaps it's the sheer scope, with a whole host of completely new monsters mingling alongside old favourites, or the fact that your journey takes you through forests and hills, ancient tombs and mine workings and even off hot air ballooning! While the search for what you need may take several attempts, retracing old ground in a monotonous fashion, it's rarely dull this time. It reads almost like a movie, with several stands out action scenes, and more pieces of the plot revealed as you progress.

It's a very simple idea, probably the archetypal Livingstone book, but it has a certain something about it that makes it great.

Rating: 8 out of 10