FF41: Master of Chaos

Nicholas Campbell
Kieran Coghlan
Richard Wood


[Nicholas Campbell]

The Staff of Power has been stolen by a wizard named Shanzikuul, and if it is not brought back to its rightful owners, then the consequences for Titan will be too terrifying to imagine - as usual. You have been summoned to a meeting of wizards, who have sent you on a voyage to the continent of Khul, on board a slave ship, the Diablo. Once you've arrived at the port of Ashkyos, you must journey south to the ruined city of Kabesh, where Shanzikuul - and the Staff of Power - currently reside.

Those of you who know Titan well will also know that Khul is known as the Dark Continent, and Master of Chaos really sets a scene of a continent tarnished by the forces of Chaos. Ashkyos is not a nice town - you could say that it's Khul's equivalent of Port Blacksand - and what's more, you don't have any equipment with you, except for 2 Gold Pieces which are hidden inside your boots. You'll need to spend a while in Ashkyos, obtaining money by fair means or foul (usually the latter), buying equipment for the long journey to Kabesh, and avoiding the guards who patrol the streets. The book uses a NOTORIETY score to track how well known you are to the citizens and the authorities; become too well known and you'll be forced to leave. It's used quite effectively and adds a twist to the book.

Once you're out of Ashkyos, there's a long trek through the Wastes of Chaos - one of the most hostile areas of Titan in terms of climate - to the ruins of Kabesh. You get a real sense of just how barren and lifeless this area of Khul is, and you'll need to eat a lot of meals just to conserve your STAMINA. If you manage to reach Kabesh, your quest is far from finished, as you must find the entrance to Shanzikuul's lair, which lies within the Chaos Pits. But Keith Martin has cleverly included another twist in this tale, because you will learn through the course of your mission that you're not the only person who has set out to recover the Staff of Power...

Master of Chaos is quite a good book, and the writing oozes atmosphere. There are a few flaws, though. The main one is the system of Special Skills, which aren't used much and don't add anything to the book. Some Fighting Fantasy gamebooks use Special Skills well, but Master of Chaos isn't one of them. This is surprising when one considers that the NOTORIETY score was implemented fairly well. Another problem is that the map of Ashkyos is missing from most copies of the book. However, this is quite a minor irritation. In summary, Master of Chaos is a gamebook which is worth playing, and it's one of Keith Martin's better contributions to the Fighting Fantasy series.

Rating: 8/10


[Kieran Coghlan]

So, the Staff of Rulership has been nicked from a guild of incompetent wizards by yet another all-powerful sorcerer and spirited away to his Lair of Evil somewhere in Khul and although the wizards desperately need it back if they are to prevent the world falling into anarchy, they're far too lazy to get off their posteriors and do anything about it themselves. Instead they hire YOU to go to the obscure ruins in Khul where the bad guy has his lair and take the staff back. Unfortunately, you are nowhere near Khul. Do the wizard's pay for a ship crewed by the finest sailors on Titan? No, they're cheap as well as lazy. Instead, they arranged for you to be hit over the head and press ganged as a slave on a ship heading in the rough general direction. In the off-chance that you can escape from the ship and survive a trek of about a hundred miles to the wizard's lair you can then set about retrieving the staff. And just to show you that they're not going to leave you completely helpless, they give you a whole two gold pieces to buy equipment with - assholes.

For those of you who were not put off by the utter ridiculousness of this scenario, Master of Chaos, Keith Martin's third FF book, is actually not that bad. It is a book of two halves, the first consisting of you on board the slave ship (which is basically just being told to deduct several points from your Stamina score repeatedly) and then exploring the port of Ashkyos to equip yourself for the journey south. This is where the book is at its best as you involve yourself in several money making schemes, both legal and illegal, just to buy a backpack, provisions and sword. While you do this you have to keep track of a Notoriety score - drawing too much attention to yourself can bring the unwanted attention of the city militia and force you to flee from the city early. You also have the opportunity to acquire the best sidekick ever (apologies to Mungo fans) although he does rather unbalance the book in your favour. Unfortunately, the book goes downhill after you leave Askyos. You are faced with either an overland trek (long and boring) or a boat trip (shorter, but no less boring). When you eventually reach the ruins in which Shanzikuul, the evil wizard's lair is hidden (by which time you will have probably read the phrase "you must eat a meal" an ungodly amount of times) you are faced with a list of locations to explore and, this being a Keith Martin book, if you explore them in the wrong order you cannot win. That said, Shanzikuul's lair is actually quite well written and likeably weird. Annoyingly though, without a Skill of 12, Shanzikuul will have you for breakfast. This is especially irritating as relatively low Skilled characters could reach him with few problems. Then even if you beat him, you are faced with a poor anticlimactic fight which will probably leave those who failed to find the clues about a rival also searching for the staff scattered throughout the book scratching their head in mystification. Especially as finding these clues doesn't actually make the book any easier (in fact sometimes the reverse) and even if you do find them all they don't actually make matters that much clearer anyway. In fact the whole second half of the book feels like Keith Martin was growing bored of it, a pity due to the very promising start.

The book's inclusion of special skills you can use is a good idea, although some are a bit more useful than others, and the writing and David Gallagher's illustrations are solid. But there are better books out there than Master of Chaos. That said it's better than quite a few as well (including most of Martin's later efforts). It's just a pity Keith Martin wasn't able to keep the entertainment value of the first half of the book going.



This adventure puts you in the unenviable position of travelling to darkened Kkul to the defiled city of Ashkyos to undertake a quest of great peril. All you have is 2 gold pieces, cunningly tucked into a hidden compartment of your boots and your wits. To aid secrecy you are stowed away in a slave galley to reach this location and it is up to you to escape on the way. Character generation is relatively straightfoward except for the choice of several special skills. They seem to be typical hero skills, such as acute hearing and tracking and choosing the right ones is very helpful. Upon reaching Ashkyos you must spend time gathering information, finding money and buying further equipment. This is where the adventure shines most, you are able to visit locations more than once in this place and finding money quickly to buy weapons and armour is essential. Fight a gladiator fight, join a shrewd rogue in a cunning heist of a warehouse or aid a necromancer in his dark deeds - the choice is yours. To further hinder your expedition is the NOTORIETY score, this represents how much attention you are making - your notoriery increases from getting into fights on the streets, performing underhand activities and so on. Once it reaches a certain score you are forced to leave the town with the guards suspicious watch on your pack. This feature adds an enjoyable twist to the adventure and  makes you think twice about your actions. There is plenty of interesting items and equipment to be found, including several helpful magical items. Once your character is equiped and ready for battle he must set off to the ruined city of Kabesh to locate the Master of Chaos' underworld lair. Once again, you are presented with a set of desolate locations, such as ruined warehouses and abandoned temples to find, there is also an interesting subquest involving locating a sacred relic for a wandering band of nomads if you think it worth your effort. The underworld lair is resonably straightfoward, with a particularly enjoyable ending encounter (the Master himself offers you the cliche choice of joining his dark side to rule the world together etc).

Overall a very enjoyable book, with well-balanced fights and average artwork. My main complaint would be that as the book is limited to the usual 400 paragraphs the town takes up too much of the book - the route to the lair and the dungeon itself is relatively short and linear in comparison with the town. In addition unless you have one of the skills you die instantly on the way to the ruins. Otherwise a fairly enjoyable book, rated number 13 in my collection!

Rating: 7.8/10


[Richard Wood]

Keith Martin usually writes the most atmospheric books in which it is easy to get really absorbed in the story and Master of Chaos is no exception. The whole world is threatened once again by a necromancer named Shanzikuul who has returned from the grave and stolen an ancient magical artifact which will give him unlimited (to all intents and purposes) power - and apparently YOU are the only adventurer on the whole planet whose reputation is esteemed enough to recommend you to the conclave of wizards who need an experienced warrior for a daring suicide mission to Khul.

Unfortunately you are nowhere near Khul. You are on another continent, and Shanzikuul has spies everywhere - you can't just voyage there in gleaming armour, loaded with gold and magic weapons. A renowned legend like you would be recognised. You have to go there undercover, and your new clients have arranged you the perfect disguise. You will be press-ganged as a galley-slave by a motley crew of sea-faring scum, who number Orcs and suchlike vermin among their ranks. Needless to say, with this kind of a start it is perfectly possible to die before you have even properly begun your quest. Unlike normal FF adventures where you are customarily rewarded for doing the right thing, like helping people or standing up for yourself, in this part of the book that kind of hero stuff will only get you in trouble - most likely killed, for there is at least one instant death paragraph for the saintly. They don't call them suicide missions for nothing!

If you survive the voyage (and you will certainly lose STAMINA points whatever you do) you have to escape from the ship. If you manage that you can explore the port of Ashkyos on the north coast of Khul, the Dark Continent's answer to Port Blacksand and Kharé. Here is the first problem: "Ashkyos is divided into districts; these are shown on the map on the inside front cover of this book." On the inside cover of my book were some adverts for other books. Oh well...

Ashkyos is a dangerous place, but a good place to make money to buy things (since you start the book with none, being an escaped slave). You can fight gladiators in the arena or just kill random lowlife in the street. But the more you draw attention to yourself the more your NOTORIETY score increases, and when it gets too high you will have to leave the rest of the town unexplored or else the militia will apprehend you ... and they don't exactly believe in the presumption of innocence (and you won't keep your innocence for very long in this place anyway). You also have the opportunity to acquire a companion in Ashkyos who will come with you when you leave and is generally quite helpful.

The third stage of the book is the perilous journey through the desert to the ruins of Kabesh in the heart of the desolate Wastes of Chaos, a viable candidate for the most hostile environment in Titan. If you get there in one piece and find the entrance to Shanzikuul's domain the final stage is set in his dungeons underground, which is occupied by disgusting Chaos monstrosities. Shanzikuul himself is no pushover.

In other words, there is something in this book for everybody ... adventuring at sea, in a town, in the wilderness and (to a lesser extent) in dungeons. There is also an even mix of human and monster opponents, so there is plenty of variety in this adventure. There are plenty of worthy opponents throughout the book, not merely at the end, including two other necromancers. Potentially there are two other characters who recur at repeated intervals throughout the story, which adds to a sense of a plot instead of just a jumbled succession of encounters. After your harsh and humbling beginning to your mission your triumph over Shanzikuul and your extravagant rewards in paragraph 400 make the whole endeavour all the more satisfying.

In addition you have the advantage of choosing three Special Skills from a list like Acute Hearing, Move Silently and Tracking. These and the excellent NOTORIETY score (which deserves to be used in all urban role-playing games) add an extra level to the standard FF rules which makes for a more interesting read. I also like the opportunity to customise your game character.

As usual Keith Martin delivers a very satisfying book which I heartily recommend.

Rating: 10 out of 10