FF30: Chasms of Malice

Nicholas Campbell
Robert Clive
Per Jorner
Jason Smith
John Stock


[Nicholas Campbell]

Gorak is a small kingdom in the south-western region of Khul. Below the surface lies the Dark Chasms - home to a race of people known as the Gaddon - and Orghuz the Dark Lord, the evil brother of the kingdom's founder, Tancred the Magnificent. For a long time, the power of the True Shield and the Great Seals of Gorak have kept the evil emanating from the chasms at bay, but now a traitor has broken the Great Seals and taken away the True Shield! The Malice of Orghuz has been unleashed, and soon his Khuddam servants will multiply rapidly.

However, Orghuz's power can only be stopped by a direct descendant of Tancred the Magnificent. The wizard Astragal has announced that you, a lowly third-assistant-rabbit-skinner, are Tancred's heir, and it is up to you, and your accomplice, Tabasha the Bazouk (a noble cat who you can use to obtain more Provisions) to wield the Shining Sword, defeat Orghuz, bring back the True Shield, and restore peace and order to Gorak.

Chasms of Malice is the first of three Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Luke Sharp which are set in south-west Khul - the other two being Daggers of Darkness and Fangs of Fury (which also feature the wizard Astragal). Unfortunately, Chasms of Malice is easily the worst of the three, mainly because it is extremely difficult even if you have maximum Initial scores. The book is littered with situations where you must roll one or more dice a certain number of times, and if any of the results match, you die. There are also far too many opportunities to die by merely choosing the wrong route or going through the wrong door, without any intuition as to which might be the correct choice. Then there is a system of combat known as One-Strike Combat, in which you roll two dice for your opponent and two dice for yourself; whoever rolls the lower score dies, so you have a 50% chance of surviving such combats. Finally, there are several situations where you will die if you are Unlucky when Testing your Luck. If you combine all of these factors, your chances of completing this gamebook are less than 10%, and if your Initial LUCK is low, they may even be less than 5%.

Even if most or all of these faults had been corrected, I probably still would have thought that Chasms of Malice was not a good gamebook. I didn't find the story all that inspiring or interesting, and there are a lot of mazes as well. I think one maze is enough for most gamebooks, thank you. It is also unnecessary to fight any of the Khuddam.

That said, Chasms of Malice has one or two good points. The Braille-like system of counting that the Gaddon people use, known as Secret Cyphers, is fairly novel and is used several times throughout the book, allowing you to turn to references that are otherwise not mentioned in the text. If you're familiar with binary, calculating the numbers should not be troublesome for you. The book, like all of Luke Sharp's books, is non-linear, and there are many routes to success - although given the number of times your attempts end in instant death, finding any of them will test the patience of even the most honest Fighting Fantasy adventurers; I resorted to cheating in the end.

I reckon that Chasms of Malice is one of the worst Fighting Fantasy gamebooks in the entire series. It's certainly one of the worst Titan-based Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, and it seems to me that it has not been playtested properly. There are far too many instances where your chances of survival are determined entirely at random. At least the other two books by Luke Sharp that follow on from this one are better.

Rating: 2/10


[Robert Clive]

This started as a good idea; an epic, underground, dungeon romp through rocky tunnels, over stone bridges and across rivers of molten lava.

The writing was okay, the drawings were excellent and the cover was good.

However, one of the failings of this book is the total lack of book time given to the main villain, who we learn almost nothing about. As the villain is the climax of a book, he should always be a strong character that holds your attention like Balthus Dire!

Another turn off with this book is the hardness of it. I mean, its a ruthless killer, even by the standards of the Creature of Havoc! It's far too ruthless to be honest and would've been better if it was a bit more balanced.



[Per Jorner]

The True Shield has been taken by a baddie and will, unless some lone champion rectifies the whole situation, inexplicably give the Khuddam nasties the ability to multiply according to the formula a(n)=7^(2^n), a progression the book itself loses track of after the fourth term. That's right, they'll swamp THE WHOLE WORLD. It doesn't matter how many times those Allansian freaks save the planet in _their_ neighbourhood, some other hero slips up once in Khul and it's all for nothing.

This must surely be one of the most bloodthirsty FFs. Whereas some books like FF26 casually tried to kill you off every once in a while, and then, if you happened to get to the end, killed you, this one very solemnly goes about trying to kill you at all times. There are about a hundred paragraphs that either kill you instantly, redirect you to death, require you to do something or instantly die (most often Test your Luck successfully or roll one or more pair of dice and not get a double), or tell you to fight One-Strike Combat (which I will get back to). It's possible to avoid most of this, but only following an extended procedure of trial and error. Regular combat is not unbalanced however, which makes it ironic that you can acquire some abilities that help with combat but are no good whatsoever against instant death.

Luke Sharp's usual style and design is in evidence. Occasionally, a sentence looks delightfully condensed or sardonic. At other times, they look like they were written for preadolescents. Things happen fast and furiously. Three paragraphs can take you through as many encounters, from freedom into captivity and back, and have you switch paths into a completely different part of the underground realm for good measure. Because the book links encounters and paragraphs economically and somewhat haphazardly, there are many small glitches in continuity and patchy/lame transitions (the end of paragraph 312 being a fine, or shall we say not so fine example of the latter). There is no such thing as consistent topography: you can walk off in entirely different directions and eventually find yourself travelling down the same corridor; or fail to open the door to room X, fall down a pit and there find an opening which leads precisely to X; or duck into a side passage to find that you have skipped one subquest ahead, or one subquest back. The briefness of the proceedings coupled with brutal intrusions of gamebook logic can sometimes leave you wondering what's going on, as your character steps through doors when it should be apparent at a glance that the other side is not the place to be, and flaps back and forth because your chosen course of action cryptically turns out to be a non-starter. At one point, you decide to "stab the Sword into the ground" for no obvious reason, provoking the appearance of a ghost. You are told by allies to seek this or that place, but not which way to go to get there, although they reasonably could have when it's just a matter of going left or right outside their back door.

Good invention: Tabasha the Bazouk. This kitty companion serves as Provision-dispenser and potion in one, and also does tricks (including a pretty good Uma Thurman impression). Neat.

Bad invention: One-Strike Combat. This is where you essentially roll a die with a 50% chance of dying outright. One paragraph instructs you to fight six such battles. Dubious.

Ugly invention: Fuel rules. These involve a maximum potential difference of 7 Stamina points, which is hardly worth the extra ink, let alone the fact that the idea makes little sense even before you get to wondering why you should be sent on your way with a pan and tinderbox (presumably, since as I understand it they are also useful when cooking), but no fuel, into a kingdom of endless rock (yes, and molten lava, which is however apparently unsuited for heating purposes), when the problem is obviously _not_ that you don't like to carry it around. "Well, boys and girls, this was in the Great Gorak Fuel Shortage of '88..."

Cover note: It is pink. I don't believe it was meant to be pink. I believe it was supposed to show a not pink wall of flames rising from a not pink volcano, with a not pink orc wielding a not pink spear and so on. This is nothing short of fascinating - the cover of FF29 lacked a colour separation, but at least one print run of FF30 was missing two! Bet they kept a straight face and flogged them to kids at full price, too. By the way, that shaggy horned horse is one of the Koyunlu - there are several references to them in the book, but only one paragraph that you may not come across describing what they are, and the word "pink" has been poignantly left out of it.

Cryptic clue: Don't believe all that you are told by old men.

People who want a coherent, uninterrupted story out of a gamebook will find Chasms of Malice dry and tediously belligerent. People who like something to chew on will, I think, be intrigued by the richness of paths until they reach the Chase (a good idea poorly implemented), after which point instant deaths become a nuisance, experimentation is discouraged, the book starts to wear out its welcome, and eventual triumph is likely to have degraded into a feeling of release. Plenty of idiosyncratic detail scattered among the deadfalls and crossbow traps, though, and not every book has that.

It's not possible to have any Fuel in 145, and it's also impossible to have more than two Fuel units in 329, making the outcome of that section somewhat inappropriate. In 267 I assume being hit by an arrow means death. Most of the time when solving Cyphers and adding up numbers there is no special indication that you were correct, usually for the reason that you can get there in other ways. More sloppily, the section for casting the Bottomless Pit spell does not say it's the correct one as promised. In 378 I assume you should always get 1 Stamina point for resting, since you can simply choose not to eat and then eat immediately afterwards anyway. 399 could have been more instructive (which you'd think was the whole point) by saying the illustration should be read from right to left. What is "a double-daggered scimitar"? Several rivers of lava are crossed; we are told that the heat is "intense" or "unbearable", yet it's never dangerous (unless you fall in). The consequence of going forward in 54 makes little sense. Was rolling a 6 in 42 intended to cost you Stamina as well as Skill, or are you bitten differently somehow? The puzzle in 252 cannot be conclusively solved with the information given, although that was not necessarily intended. Why does the realization that a certain tunnel-blocking monster cannot be fought convince the protagonist that they must be dangerously passed, instead of simply avoided which was possible a moment earlier? And why must only three of them be passed, not all four? Why the big difference between 58 and 231? Why rob someone and then try to kill them, instead of the other way round? There is one segment in the later half of the book which leaves you with a 1% chance of survival simply from all the random rolls you have to make, yet it seems as if the writer still believed someone might get through. 313 contains a protagonist gender slip-up. The instruction in 203 to "Check your Adventure Sheet for Luck, Skill, Stamina and Provisions" is cryptic; is the author concerned they might have fallen off? And whatever could the instruction not to use the Spell of Life "unwisely" mean? That if you die you should perhaps choose not to use the spell, since if you keep playing you may die again later and wish you still had the spell?

Rating: 5/10


[Jason Smith]

Fighting Fantasy Number 30; Chasms of Malice, was written by Luke Sharp and illustrated by Russ Nicholson in 1987. Despite Sharp's last attempt (Number 27; Star Strider, which was a bit of a doughnut), Chasms of Malice is a quite well written, interesting and well planned gamebook, despite being excessively hard/unfair in places.

The book is of the usual sword/sorcery mould, being set on the continent of Khul, in the small kingdom of Gorak, founded by Tancred the Magnificent and his brother; Orghuz centuries earlier. You start as an unassuming, lowly kitchen servant in Gorak Keep; third assistant rabbit skinner, to be exact! You life is changed when, summoned to an audience with the Wizard Astragal (an unashamed Yaztromo rip-off), he tells you that you're Tancred the Magnificent's only surviving blood heir (you could've been living in luxury for years if they'd discovered this years ago)!

With the consent of Gorak's Regent; Lord Ridermark, Astragal tells you about Orghuz. Orghuz was Tancred the Magnificent's brother, until he turned to evil and was destroyed by being cast into the chasms below Gorak. Centuries later, he has come back to life to take his revenge and conquer everything/everyone!

Creatures of chaos have appeared, under Orghuz's control, killing and enslaving people at will. The Gaddon; a good, noble race of blind sensewarriors who live permanently underground in the chasms, seem unable to stem the flow of Orghuz's many inhuman servants.

Recently, Astragal discovered the Great Seal on Gorak keep's vault broken, the True shield, that protects Gorak from Orghuz's power, stolen! Astragal tells you that he fears Orghuz's servants have stolen it. If Orghuz is able to destroy the True shield, he'll be all-powerful! Therefore, it's up to you (third assistant rabbit skinner, without any combat experience/skill at all) to journey deep into the subterranean, labyrinth-like tunnels of the Gorak chasms, seek and destroy the latest world-conqueror; Orghuz and his most important and powerful servants; his seven-strong 'Khuddam', appropriately named: Barkek, Churka, Friankara, Geshrak, Gurskut, Griffkek and Kahhrac, rescue the True Shield (hey, wasn't it a tiny bit irresponsible to leave a shield which protects a whole kingdom just lying around) thereby saving the entire Kingdom/world!

Before sending you on your way, Astragal gives you a nice new, shiny sword and Tabasha the Bazouk; a noble cat, from the race of cat goddesses, to help you along the way. Then it's up to you...

OK, compared to most FF books, this isn't that bad! I think that this book just about makes up for the failure that Star Strider was, considering that this book is quite well written. I thought that you get a good feel for exploring the subterranean tunnel system which is fairly complex and has you travelling through varied environments. It all comes together well to form an appropriate atmosphere.

It also has some nice encounters: meeting the Gaddon, exploring the caves of minosaddurr, being caught and enslaved by Orghuz's minions and the lethal xokusai orc chase, along the underground cliff face, are all interesting and original. You can also get taught how to 'Sensefight' in the dark and learn cyphers; an old Gaddon counting system, which allows you to access long forgotten secret passages...

There are, as always, a few dubious aspects about this book. These being: the extremely unfair 'one-strike combat' system, used in cliff top fighting, where you roll two dice for you and your opponent, the one who makes the highest role surviving, the other automatically falling to his/her death. Regardless of your skill or stamina, you only have a 50/50 chance of surviving each of these deadly encounters!

Then there are the provisions, or lack of them! You only start with five provisions; half the normal amount and really too few to keep you healthy, even with Tabasha's help. And you don't even get the Skill/Stamina/Luck potion the start your mission with either!

Next is the large amount of 'Instant Death' references and over zealous underworld enemies. Every other passage involves you being killed in some gruesome way or another, from being executed by Dark Elves to being pushed into molten lava, falling off something very high (this one frequently reoccurs), being enslaved or having something extremely large and heavy fall on you, crushing you flat! In total I counted a massive 27 Instant Death references in this book. I ended up finishing this adventure feeling quite paranoid to say the least! Was this book play tested at all?

Still, overall I'd say this book is quite good! It's well crafted and, thanks to Russ Nicholson's unique style, contains good illustrations. Although, I did think that Orghuz himself was a bit two-dimensional. You see one picture of him, dressed head to foot in armour, and he only utters a few predictable curses at you in the whole book! Also, right at the end of this book, there is quite a cunning twist. If you don't learn an important piece of information during your quest, you could well find out the hard way...

Rating: 6.5/10


[John Stock]

This FF book is one from what I refer to as the "middle" books. These books were often very cautious experiments with different sub-authors and this product of the unfortunately named Luke Sharp (does he have a friend called Neil Down?). Given that Mr Sharp's last attempt (#27, Star Strider) was one of the many unsuccessful sci-fi FF books, we can only hope that Chasms does better.

The plot is rather contrived but mostly sound. The player, at the start, is a lowly assistant in the underkitchens. Specifically, third assistant rabbit skinner, a job I cannot and do not want to imagine doing. But anyway, it turns out that you are the only surviving descendant of Tancred the Magnificent, and who is given this magic sword and Tabasha the Bazouk (a cat, of all things!) and told to kill off Tancred's evil brother Orghuz (compare this with the example of Brotherly Love shown in FF 56). In addition, the hero must also recover the True Shield, which protects the entire kingdom from the ravages of his seven Khuddamm, all of whom have brilliant names. And yes, all of these objectives are of "A" priority. Why did they have to design this quest by committee?

Now while this plot may have several little flaws in it, this is not the time or place to bitch about it. This is the time and place, however, to bitch about flaws in the actual gameplay. For a start there is the flawed One-Strike Combat. Here follows a quote from the rules section pertaining to this:

"The procedure [for One-Strike Combat] is as follows:

1. Throw two dice for your opponent.
2. Throw two dice for yourself.

If your throw is greater than your opponent's, he, she or it has been knocked off by your blow and has plummeted to doom. If your throw is lower, you suffer a similar fate."

And the other big irritant with this one is the huge abundance of paragraphs with instant death commands. I counted all these:

17, 20, 28, 29, 40, 44, 70, 80, 83, 87, 90, 93, 115, 117, 118, 120, 121, 132, 141, 153, 160, 162, 165, 167, 170, 171, 186, 190, 192, 197, 206, 210, 214, 237, 241, 254, 261, 269, 275, 286, 311, 315, 316, 321, 325, 333, 364, 374, 394 and 395.

This does not include the many "Turn to..." references which send the player directly to an Instant Death Section. A good FF should have a few Instant Deaths but 50 is overdoing it rather!

So to sum up - a fair attempt, but not as good as some of the others. Don't go out of your way to get it.

MY RATING - 6.3/10