FF44: Legend of the Shadow Warriors

Nicholas Campbell
Per Jorner
Jared Milne
Oliver Robertson


[Nicholas Campbell]

"Shadow Warriors on steeds infernal, riding ever faster; uprooting tree and breaking stone, searching for their Master." This Gallantarian nursery rhyme forms the basis of the story of this excellent gamebook, which is set in the Old World, in the country of Gallantaria. You are sitting in the First Step tavern in Gallantaria's capital city, Royal Lendle, when a farmer from the village of Karnstein tells you that it is being attacked by the Shadow Warriors - but the Shadow Warriors are merely a myth... or are they? You offer to go to Karnstein to see what's going on.

Your long trek to Karnstein begins with a tour of Royal Lendle, where you can buy items for your quest at the market, and meet some rather interesting characters, including Bartolph the gambler and the arrogant tax collector Quinsberry Woad. Once you've escaped from his clutches, you then meet the Shadow Warriors for the first time. From that encounter, you can take one of two routes to Karnstein, each of which offers its own challenges and sights, although one of them is significantly more risky than the other. As you progress, you will learn more about the Shadow Warriors and their Master.

There is a great number of locations to visit on your way to Karnstein, and that's one of the things that makes Legend of the Shadow Warriors such a great gamebook. Another twist is that there is a lot going on elsewhere in the towns and villages of Gallantaria. There are many characters to meet outside Royal Lendle as well, including Hammicus the hermit, the Haggworts (monsters with pumpkin heads), the Mandrakes (plant-like creatures who assume the indentity of their victims), a group of veteran soldiers who take a strange dislike to you, Doktor Kauderwelsch (the Old World's answer to Frankenstein), and the Nightmare Master - and there are more that I haven't mentioned.

Legend of the Shadow Warriors is the second of Stephen Hand's three gamebooks in the Fighting Fantasy series, and it is by far the most difficult of the three. Unlike his other two books, you won't get anywhere with minimal Initial scores. A nice addition is the use of armour; you can buy armour at the start of the game, and it will reduce the amount of STAMINA you lose, but it becomes useless after a certain number of hits. It's a real shame that this system wasn't used in any gamebooks after that, as it works rather well. The author has also included a lengthy background, which summarises the history of Gallantaria (and carries on from the events that took place in the puzzle book, The Tasks of Tantalon), and the War of the Four Kingdoms, which you, as the hero of this book, fought in.

One small criticism I have about this book is that it relies on Testing your Skill too much, and if you fail, the results are nearly always fatal. Also, there is one item which makes the battle with the Shadow Warriors really easy if you happen to have a high LUCK score, which is rather unfair if you don't. However, these are minor criticisms of an otherwise brilliant gamebook which is well worth obtaining.

Rating: 9/10


[Per Jorner]

And now for a book with one of the greatest FF covers (by Terry Oakes, incidentally), showing a pumpkin-headed thingy with a sword against a dark, rainy sky. Even the Oriental-flavoured title font looks really snazzy. Stephen Hand means the Old World, a continent which is apparently in a constant state of metaphysical flux: this time, neo-paganism is the word of the day. Also, "all life" is at stake. Gee, how about a little more pressure here?

After being hired by some peasants to deal with the eponymous baddies, you go out to shop for items in a way that resembles The Forest of Doom but is not quite so simplistic. Following a bit of a scuffle in Royal Lendle (your point of departure in Dead of Night as well, though the Templars are nowhere to be seen), the Warriors show up and make it personal. The rest of the book is about getting to the villain while at the same time making sure you'll be able to accomplish something besides getting whacked. Nothing too unusual about that, but the flavour of the writing and encounters attest nicely to Hand's ambitions, as does the general design.

The book offers you a choice of routes and options very early on, meaning each new game is an opportunity to try another one of them. Your character has something of a past which is touched upon in the adventure, however tangentially. There's a nice mixture of victory conditions, including the stuff you absolutely must have, the stuff without which you're in big trouble, and the stuff that will simply help. The setting has character to it, a dark quality underscored by Martin McKenna's illustrations.

Naturally I shall not abstain from listing ambiguities and stuff. The Ring of Destiny essentially becomes a machine gun if you have a high Luck and test it every round in combat. While playing I simply decided not to use it this way, but a much better solution would have been to have the ring function when you are Unlucky. (The Spear of Doom may at first seem like a rocket launcher with a cheesy name, but unlike the ring it comes with a twist.) The branching in paragraph 282 could have been better presented; also, what if you only travelled briefly with the circus? The transition from 315 to 104 is a bit odd - I assume you actually use the Calthrops (sic). If you leap into the river in Shattuck, you perform the amazing feat of drifting upstream, if the map is anything to go by. It's not explained exactly what your character does at the end that involves the mystical numbers. Why does paragraph 17 list nine enemies, when at least three of them must perish before the battle begins? The unmappable maze should perhaps not have had a greater chance of instant death than of finding the exit - sticking to Stamina deductions would have been just fine -, although its conceptual motivation is better than usual... but why do you seemingly teleport to another location once you leave the maze? Voivod could have done with a bit of description. In one place you may find yourself forced into a potentially ruinous course of action even though your character may know that it's fruitless.

Legend of the Shadow Warriors isn't perfect - what book is? -, but excellent all the same. With balanced enemies, more interesting than usual encounters, solid writing, several fall-down funny moments ("And how long have you had this need to identify things?") and firmly above average drawings, there isn't a lot in LotSW that doesn't click. Though I can agree about the tweeness of the elemental gods (you shouldn't have to live in the cold north to regard with suspicion any philosophy which brands the lighting of fires and chopping down of trees as evil) and I didn't particularly get off on the last paragraph, I enjoyed this book a lot and rate it a significant gamebook accomplishment.

Rating: 9/10


[Jared Milne]

This book is very well written. The five Shadow Warriors who serve Voivod "The Apocalypse", must be stopped by you, as was mentioned in the previous review. While this book is very good, it has a weird flaw in the continuity of Titan that bugged me to no end.

A new system of armor exists in this book, whch ranges from the standard leather suit every character seems to have, all the way to Plate Armor, which you can use against the Haggworts (those pumpkin-headed guys on the cover). You start off with the standard run-of-the-mill sword (I wouldn't be surprised if this is a rule established by Marc Gascoigne that must be met if you want your book published, since every Titan-based book gives you a sword whether you want it or not), but you can buy other weapons along the way, which is good, since I was getting tired of using a sword all the time.

Various subplots grace the book - the Mandrakes, Doktor Kauderwelsch, the Haggworts, and that weird skeleton that the archaeologist digs up [which] gives it a second layer unseen in most FF books. There is one big flaw that may not bother most people, but which irritates me to no end. The established gods of Titan are nowhere to be seen in the book - instead, we are shown some imaginary deities that we've never seen before, as well as an imaginary villain, the aforementioned Voivod, who seems to have little to no background, BTW. Who are these guys? How come we've never seen them anywhere else in Titan? It irritates me that some authors totally ignore continuity like this (Stephen Hand is not the only one who does so - Thomson and Morris do so in Keep of the Lich Lord, but that can be attributed to a case of "same deity, different name".)

Apart from this blotch, it's an otherwise wonderful book. The subplots, your character's background, the fact that you can go beyond the simple sword and leather suit... too bad you couldn't just run that irritating dork Quinsberry Woad through, though. I wish Hand would have described the look on his face if you show him the Scroll of Civic Pardon you can acquire.  ;)

Rating: 9.0/10


[Oliver Robertson]

This is one of the best books in the series and includes many subplots and twists to the story. The basic premise is that you (as a veteran adventurer and former soldier) return to Royal Lendle in Gallantaria, searching for adventure. You are approached by a man who claims his village is being terrorised by the Shadow Warriors, bogeymen and (supposed) myths. You (obviously) agree to help, but your adventure is nearly halted very early on by the evil tax man who tries to kill you for tax evasion. Once you escape his clutches you will have your first encounter with the Shadow Warriors, each of whom has a different special power. This is the first twist to a story which has you allying with the Elemental Gods of the Old World and brings you to a final encounter with Death himself. There are several subplots, such as the Mandrakes (plants which try and take over the world) and Doktor Kauderwelsch (a Frankenstein wannabe). The next book written by Stephen Hand, ‘Moonrunner’, continues with these subplots and the dark, menacing feel that pervades this story.

A number of advances in character creation are made here. Your character is limited to one weapon at a time and also has the chance to acquire armour during the quest. This is also the first adventure where you have to test your Skill instead of ‘rolling two dice and comparing the result with your Skill score’, a feature which becomes the norm in later adventures. Your character also has some personality and can meet with several acquaintances from his past, not all of them friendly (the best example of this is Quinsberry Woad, the tax collector). There are also two major paths to take before you reach your final destination - one takes you to the Mandrakes and the Forbidden Caves, while along the other you travel past the Haggwort (who are featured on the excellent front cover) and go through the treacherous Witchtooth Line.

This book is an excellent read and is my current favourite in my personal collection. I advise anyone who enjoys FF to buy it as soon as possible.

Rating: 10/10