FF47: The Crimson Tide

Nicholas Campbell
Kieran Coghlan
Jared Milne
Mark J. Popp (spoiler - win condition)
John Stock


[Nicholas Campbell]

War is raging in the Isles of the Dawn. Mercenaries, dressed entirely in black and wearing masks on their faces, travel on horseback, looting and burning the villages they enter. Then it's the turn of your village to suffer their wrath, and you and your friends are determined to seek revenge.

The Crimson Tide follows on from the events in Paul Mason's previous book, Black Vein Prophecy, in which Maior became King of the Isles of the Dawn after a struggle with his brother Feior. This is where things become confusing, as there is little information on what is going on now, and things are still far from clear if you somehow manage to reach the final stages of the book (more on this below). There are many questions which remain unanswered.

The Crimson Tide is unique in that you start as a 13-year-old child, with weak SKILL and STAMINA scores. It's possible to have an Initial SKILL of 1 and an Initial STAMINA of 2, although you're certainly not going to get anywhere with scores as low as that! Fortunately you can increase your SKILL and STAMINA as time progresses. There is also a FEROCITY score which reflects your desire for revenge and decreases over the years, but it's not used much. Overall, the passage of time is handled quite well, and it's a clever and innovative addition.

This is a very open-ended book which allows you go almost wherever you please and take a seemingly endless variety of routes. It's possible to miss out entire sections and take long-winded paths which will ultimately lead to failure without you ever realising until it's much too late. During your journey, you write down words on your Adventure Sheet which chart the actions you have performed through time and affect the course of the book. This is another clever innovation. The words also reveal how to complete the book, but only if you have followed exactly the correct path.

It's this open-endedness which, like Black Vein Prophecy before it, gives The Crimson Tide a deserved reputation for being one of the most difficult books in the Fighting Fantasy series. It is so infuriatingly, frustratingly difficult that I soon started to cheat. Another annoying trait that it shares with Black Vein Prophecy is that you must fail a dice roll to complete the book. It's a shame, because the story has a real sense of atmosphere about it as you travel around the Isles of the Dawn, and I particularly liked the range of somewhat exotic monsters you can encounter. There's Death's Messenger (a ghostly glowing skeleton), the Cangui (a silkworm which bestows a curse on its victim), the Yuemo (a creature which is half-man, half-fish), and Cesuoshe's Tongue - although who or what Cesuoshe is remains unknown.

To summarise, The Crimson Tide is a gamebook for masochists. It's certainly not boring in any way, but most Fighting Fantasy fans will be throwing the book at the wall in anger.

Rating: 5/10


[Kieran Coghlan]

If you have read other reviews of The Crimson Tide, you have probably come to the realization that it always either gets really positive or really negative reviews. the reason for this is that Paul Mason has written a very unusual gamebook and, like Marmite, you are either going to love it or hate it.

What makes this book so different from other FF outings is you start off as a 13 year old child and are therefore obviously weaker than the usual FF heroes. Your Skill score is reckoned by rolling a single die, your Stamina Score by rolling two dice and Luck is the same as normal. The book also introduces two new statistics: Age and Ferocity. Age is pretty self-explanatory. The story takes place over several years, and as you get older, you grow stronger, and your anger at your parents' fate decreases. Your Ferocity score reflects how angry you are at your present circumstances. It is found by rolling a die and adding to result to half your Stamina score (because apparently the tougher you are, the angrier you are, although I've met several people of which the opposite is true). Ferocity is something of a double edged sword. A high Ferocity score makes it easier to intimidate people, but it also means you will find it harder to control your actions. Unfortunately, what lets the book down somewhat is that Mason is far too demanding on dice rolls. Many of the enemies (even if we exclude the infamous Skill 12 Stamina 6 Mudworm that the editor threw in) are far too tough for a character who might only have a Skill of 1. Furthermore, your other stats need to be pretty decent as well (and, as veterans of Black Vein Prophecy will know, decent does not necessarily mean high for Paul Mason). So unfortunately, Mason has failed to produce a fair adventure which anyone could complete with rubbish scores. But as the same criticism could be made against the majority of FF authors, this is forgiveable.

Plotwise, it is somewhat reminiscent of the film Conan the Barbarian. It is set around the events of Black Vein Prophecy. You are a child living in your peaceful village when a bunch of mercenaries, involved in the civil war between Maior and Feior, charge in and kill your father and kidnap your mother. Therefore, one thing occupies your mind - vengeance. On your quest for vengeance you can do many things: become a monk, a rebel, a sailor, a slave, a gladiator, encounter snake-people (more Conan the Barbarian similarities there) and several other things. Some of these career paths may lead to victory and others may not, but that means even if you are not on the correct path you will at least have an event-filled, enjoyable read, unlike FF books such as Crypt of the Sorcerer where if you're not on the correct path to victory, you will miss all the interesting bits. That is one of the best things about the book - there is just so much to do and see. However, the revenge plot is not as intriguing as the plot to Black Vein Prophecy or even Slaves of the Abyss, although the way the story develops over a few years is interesting. The characters are a mixed bunch. Like his previous books, there are quite a few enigmatic characters, but none of them are particularly developed. I am still non-plussed as to what exactly Merzei's motivation is. BVP and TCT both make out he's a good guy who likes to help the little guy out, so why does he attack people for no reason? Maior comes off as dissapointingly vanilla, and female fans of BVP might be annoyed to find out that they were playing a male character, but I guess that's only a minor gripe. Furthermore, more could really have been made of Pantu. And I'm not sure why the author decided to dedicate the book to Keiko, Ambassador of Ai. She's hardly one of the more intriguing FF characters.

Gameplay wise, The Crimson Tide is hard. Even putting aside the unfair dice rolls for a second, finding the correct path is extremely difficult. There are also several red herrings thrown in to make it all the more tricky, and even worse, Paul Mason likes to trick you into thinking you have won when you haven't, making you want to tear the book apart in frustration. Having said that, the book is never boring and unlike say Creature of Havoc or Siege of Sardath where you can be reading for ages before falling at the final hurdle, The Crimson Tide is reasonably short to go through and so is not nearly as frustrating. The book requires you to gather codewords. These codewords are not only used to keep track of your progress, for gathering the correct ones will tell you how to beat the book. Unfortunately, the book is not very clear as to why you need certain codewords. Getting some of them does not seem to add anything to your knowledge of your quest, and yet you are expected to get them to win. If you don't like difficult gamebooks, this one is certainly not for you. As for the ending itself - well it comes off as a bit naff.

What really makes this book worth a read though is the writing. It is extremely well-writen and you really get a sense of hopelessness - no-one in the book seems to care about your quest and Paul Mason's writing style, which puts atmosphere before detail, really lets you sympathise with the player character. Mason also throws in some very imaginative monsters reather than the usual orcs and goblins. The book's art is fine. It is not particularly polished, but it goes well with the sort of dream-like prose. As for the cover, it's good, but I'm not sure what it is meant to represent.

To sum up, The Crimson Tide is a very well-written gamebook with lots of interesting encounters and colourful (if little developed) characters. The extreme and perhaps unfair difficulty will mean it is not everyone's cup of tea nor will the idea of playing as a child who grows older and stronger throughout the quest appeal to everyone. However, The Crimson Tide is a very enjoyable gamebook experience in my mind, and I would recommend every FF fan try to find a copy just to see what they make of it themselves.


[Jared Milne]

Right from the get-go, I was confused by this novel. Who are these mercenaries working for? Why raid your village? Are they fighting for Maior or Feior? Are they just bandits that plunder and rob for fun and profit? And what does the mask have to do with anything? None of these questions were answered in the text, which left me puzzled as to why some politicians would want to kill you - I didn't think I was hindering their activities at all...

Paul Mason is a master at writing books wherein if you make one slip-up, you're screwed. This is what makes his work so difficult. And fighting a Skill 12 opponent when you're saddled with a skill of 1-6 is danged unfair. Luckily, Mason never intended for this to happen - according to the interview with him on this site, the problem was an editorial mistake on Gascoigne's part. (I can never spell his name right without a visual reference...)

Anyhoo, the plot is confusing, since there's no clear-cut villain to hunt down, unlike most other books.  A good point is that the setting is in the Oriental-type Isles of the Dawn, rather than the medieval- type lands of Allansia, Kakhabad or Khul. This is not Mason's best work, (go read Slaves of the Abyss if you want his best work, but even that one is one of those "make one wrong choice and you're screwed" books).

I can't really recommend this one. An extremely narrow path, abrupt deaths, and a twisted, almost incomprehensible plot all hurt the book big time.

Rating: 5.5/10



For those who haven’t read the book: This is one of the better books of the series of FF so if you are tossing up what FF book to adventure into next, then this one is definitely one to pursue. You start the story off as a young teenager with virtually no skills making an interesting change from most other FF adventures. The setting is in an Oriental village where you work on rice paddies to generate food for yourself and an oppressive government. Life is peaceful until a band of mercenaries sack your village, killing your father and enslaving your mother. Your father’s dying words to you are to seek vengeance. Do you want this? Of course you do!

Unlike many other FF books where you wander around being feared my many as a hardy adventurer, in The Crimson Tide you start of as a child and are treated as such. Over the course of the book you age in years and build up your abilities, but it will take some time for you to reach your normal starting point in other FF adventures. Even though you are on a noble cause, you will find far more people who are concerned for themselves in these trouble times, than will assist you in your quest.

Besides the standard Skill, Stamina and Luck, you have two additional attributes of Age and Ferocity. Unlike the normal three, higher isn’t necessarily better. Because you start as a child and are still developing your Skill and Stamina Initial scores can increase frequently unlike other FF books.

The Crimson Tide has a very enveloping atmosphere as the characters are developed and appropriately used throughout the book. The artwork is good but not brilliant. You can adventure a long way into the book without collecting a hoard of special items or having a high skill score. Given that you will almost certainly start the book dozens of times (if you play it legitimately), you will find many interesting side adventures to the one true path you must take.

The story line is good, as you need to plan your quest for revenge. You can’t just bumble along your way and fight some highly skilled bad dude at the end to get to the victory page. Keeping a well-detailed map of where you have gone in each adventure is a must. I had gone to every page legitimately (I will not cheat ever!) before I managed to finish to the book properly! Even if you have played many other FF books before read all the text from Introduction to Background carefully as strangely your success in making it through partially lies in there.

Without doubt, of the entire Fighting Fantasy book I have read, this one was by far the toughest to complete. Oddly enough you do not need good initial dice rolls to get through. The concluding paragraphs are excellent as they wrap the story up beautifully, unlike some other FF adventures! If you do complete it and hence solve one of the best challenges I have seen in Fighting Fantasy books, your satisfaction will be immense.

Rating 9 / 10


[Mark J. Popp]

As the book summary above indicates, you are a young farmer who must avenge your father's death and rescue your mother. The book is interesting (and frustrating) because instead of playing an adult warrior, you are merely a boy on a quest that is unlike anything ever previously experienced.

Crimson Tide's biggest challenge is trying to make the passage of time feasible. It doesn't do a bad job, especially in a book that has a scope of 400 passages, but it's awkward when the text says, "You spend two years training, never forgetting about your father and mother." OR "One year passes in the monastery, as you clean the monks clothes and become englightened." What's Mom supposed to do in captivity for 5 years?

The storyline is not bad. You can travel alone or with others from your village for some parts of the adventure. Other than that, there seems to be very few of your countrymen willing to help you out. More than a couple local politicians will sooner beat you than help you, if they don't outright kill you. Unfortunately, there are also a few out-of-whack RPG elements. First of all, you determine your skill by rolling one die (because of your young age), instead of the regular one die plus six. The funny part is, you encounter a monster in the second passage that has a skill of 12, while you have a skill between 1 and 6. Oops.

Admittedly, I really haven't made a lot of progress because the book loves to cut you off suddenly, if somewhat subtly. For example, when you get to the provincial capital, you must have a wooden plaque to see the King. Otherwise GAME OVER. Fine, but then you must also have a Red Robe, or GAME OVER. OK, so you have that too, but then it asks if you have some magical artefacts or GAME OVER. And you managed to get those too. So you talk to the King in hopes of getting his support. He agrees to help you, and calls one of his ministers. The minister leads you to a room in the basement of the castle, before pushing you into a pit. GAME OVER. Of course, if you're branded a traitor or you have stolen something, your adventure will be over real quick once you reach civilization.

The plot really isn't bad: it's full of intrigue and political play, but it gets really tedious re-reading all the earlier passages again, before finding out what your supposed to do (I refuse to cheat). It wouldn't be so bad after a few maps, but the book can quickly get boring. All the while you must record these "notes" on your adventure sheet in an attempt to have the book monitor your progress. For example, if you have the word "never" in your notes, one of your childhood friends will die. This can create problems later on.

And maybe it would all be bearable, except for the fact that, as I mentioned, you start with extremely low stats (both skill and stamina), while all your battles are against adults with much higher stats. It can get frustrating if your age increases, but your skill score remains the same. When you hit the age of 18, you're expected to have a decent skill score, but this is often not the case. You can pretty much kiss away any hope of succeeding at that point.

Despite its shortcomings, you'll likely enjoy The Crimson Tide for a while, and even more so if you have a lot of patience... and luck.

Rating: 6.5/10


[John Stock]

Never in my FF-playing had I ever encountered one so thoroughly repugnant as The Crimson Tide. That was the first thought that entered my head upon flicking through this Paul Mason offering for the first time.

New rules abound here - you, the character, are aged only thirteen at the beginning of this adventure and as a result you have rather warped character rolling-up. Subtracting 1 or 2 or 3 points from SKILL and 4 or 6 from STAMINA would be understandable, but this is ridiculous: "Roll one die and enter this total in the SKILL box on the Adventure Sheet."

"Roll one die and enter this total in the STAMINA box."

Hmmm, a SKILL 1, STAMINA 12 character. Then Mason pits you against this guy:


And there's you with your SKILL 1, STAMINA 12 character. Seriously though, you have no chance of beating this creature with a SKILL of 1 - if you roll a double 6 and he rolls a double 1, your Attack Strength is 13 and his is 14. Even with a SKILL 2 character you've still no chance. I know about tough battles but this is stupid.

And as we play on, more gripes abound. Paul Mason loves Instant Death Paragraphs, and it doesn't half show. Take the bit near the end. Unless you have a wooden plaque when trying to see the king, it's "Your Adventure Ends Here". So what if you do? Well, you must also have a red robe or it's "Your Adventure Ends Here". So what? Unless you know a vital bit of information, the king sends the second-in-command with you down some side passage. And guess what? He throws you in a pit - it's "Your Adventure Ends Here" time! What a drag.

The writing style is okay, but the difficulty is stupidly high. The illustations aren't too bad though. I suppose it's more for the true FF masochist, which I'm not, but I do like a challenge. However, this book is hideously unbalanced if you ask me - i.e. SKILL 1 etc, and constant dying-a-thousand-deaths. So, unless you enjoy being stabbed, enslaved, thrown into a pit or suchlike, avoid this book. It is only for the true FF masochist and so should be reviewed by such a person rather than I.

MY RATING - 2.75/10