FF48: Moonrunner

Nicholas Campbell
Jonathan Hughson
Jared Milne
Chris Page
Sean R. Rook
John Stock (spoilers - trap)
Richard Wood


[Nicholas Campbell]

Since the War of the Four Kingdoms, one of Brice's most notorious criminals, Karam Gruul, has yet to be caught. Brice's king claims to know nothing of Gruul's whereabouts, but now information has come through that he is in the town of Blackhaven, which lies in the Badlands, where the nations of Gallantaria, Brice and Mauristatia meet each other. You are a bounty hunter who has brought many of the Old World's enemies to justice - but can you capture Karam Gruul?

Your mission starts in Blackhaven, a thoroughly nasty town which could be likened to Port Blacksand. Talking to Guard Marshal Bennet, you learn that Blackhaven is home to a secret society which is associated with Gruul. Bennet also advises you of several other places where you may follow some leads - and then he is assassinated! It's not exactly a welcoming start to Blackhaven, and it sets the scene for the rest of your mission.

The last of Stephen Hand's three gamebooks in the Fighting Fantasy series is excellent, and I wish that there were more! He really is a fantastic writer. Blackhaven is full of interesting places to visit, and as with his previous gamebook, Legend of the Shadow Warriors, there are many characters which really make Moonrunner a thrilling gamebook. Among my favourites are the Corpse Master (a skeletal creature who speaks in a strange manner, but can help you if you are cunning enough) and Conrad Zaar, the maniac guard who follows you around Blackhaven if you're unfortunate enough to meet him! You might even meet one or two characters from Legend of the Shadow Warriors as well!

In Moonrunner, as well as the usual SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK scores, you can also use Special Skills, and Stephen Hand has implemented them brilliantly. You can choose four of them from a list of nine, and although one or two of them are essential if you want to complete the game, the Special Skills that you choose can make a significant difference to how the game is played, and they add another dimension to the game. If you have the right combination of Special Skills, you can avoid a lot of unnecessary combat and complete the game even with minimal Initial scores, which I think is really smart. Also, one of the core sections of the gamebook sees you collecting several Wards of Notura so that you can be protected against Karam Gruul's magical abilities - but you don't have to collect them all, which makes a refreshing change from many other gamebooks in which you must collect everything or fail.

Frankly, I cannot find any faults with Moonrunner; it ranks as one of my favourite Fighting Fantasy gamebooks in the series. It's cleverly designed and full of interesting locations to visit and characters to meet, and because Moonrunner is quite a non-linear gamebook, it may take numerous attempts to find some of them (for instance, I spent ages trying to work out how to find the Corpse Master, and how to infiltrate the cult known as the Eternal Fraternity of the Rosy Chalice). As I said earlier, it's a shame that there aren't any more gamebooks by Stephen Hand after this one.

Rating: 10/10


[Jonathan Hughson]

Opinion on Stephen Hand's books is split; some people like the dark atmosphere of his books (based on Hammer horror films) whilst others feel that this style wasn't really suited to FF. I personally think that Hand is one of FF's finest sub-authors and it's a pity that he didn't write more. This third book from Hand (after Dead of Night and Legend of the Shadow Warriors) is possibly his best and one of the highlights of the entire series.

Moonrunner begins with you being given the task of bringing Karam Gruul, a Brician war criminal from the War of the Four Kingdoms, to justice. Gruul is known to be planning something in Blackhaven, a town in the Badlands that makes Port Blacksand look like quite a nice place to live. The adventure itself is great fun, with you trying to track down Gruul in Blackhaven, with secret societies, mental asylums, weird creatures stalking the streets and lots more. Special mention must go to Conrad Zaar, the unkillable maniac guard, who relentlessly follows you around trying to kill you. You just can't argue with lines like "His machete has waited a long time for this moment"! Once you know what Gruul is up to you must track down Gruul's Wards of Notura, magical artefacts that are scattered across some odd places in Blackhaven. Then it's off for the final confrontation with Gruul, who must rank as one of the most over-the-top villians in FF.

The adventure is well written and structured, with various paths through the book and several special skills to choose from. If you look hard enough you can find characters from other Hand books, such as Doktor Kauderwelsch and the Mandrakes. Overall a great FF.

Rating: 9/10




Unusually for Fighting Fantasy, this book is not only about finding your way through a dungeon or area, but involves solving the puzzle of how to find a missing villain. The theme is broadly drawn from the horror genre - expect a world filled with secret cabals, hordes of zombies, unkillable undead maniacs in Jason masks and one-eyed monstrosities that kill through terror. The atmosphere of the book is eerie and portentious.

There are several paths through the adventure and lots of possible sidetracks. Broadly it divides into three sections - the initial search, a second stage where you try to retrieve mystical items to use in the final battle, and the trek to find the villain - varying in length depending on the earlier sections. The device of giving the character skills (similar to the Lone Wolf series) ensures multidimensionality - some routes can only be accessed with certain skills.

I rate this as one of the better FF's, though I'd quibble that it's a little easy to complete, too many of the sidetracks are red herrings and the use of the magic items is too one-dimensional.


[Jared Milne]

Stephen Hand was one of the newer additions to the FF lineup, and he could do great things, such as Legend of the Shadow Warriors. Unfortunately, he missed the mark with Moonrunner.

In a letter on this website, Hand mentions that he wanted the reader to feel like a 1940s pulp serial hero. That's one of the last things I want to feel like when I play FF. The whole book feels wrong right off the bat, especially with the disturbing lack of monsters and conventional FF mythology, besides the geography of the Old World and some Orcs. Finally, the people seem more like an 1800s Sherlock Holmes novel than people you'd meet in a fantasy realm -- Professor Von Heldengast, or whatever her name is, looks like a dowager from Merry Olde England, the last thing I'd expect in a fantasy world like Titan.

The book's basic premise works well, but I think Hand was trying to achieve the wrong effect here.  Karam Gruul is powering up some weird cannon, and the artifacts that you can capture are equally bizarre. The special skills are good, as is the fact that your character has some background, but I felt somewhat alienated through the whole book.

McKenna's illustrations are of the usual high quality. He's tied with Iain McCaig as one of my favorite FF illustrators. He captures an essence of dark fantasy in all of his work, and it looks stunningly realistic. I was actually surprised the first time I saw his art, in Legend of Zagor.

I could probably be accused of having a small mind and of not appreciating imagination. Perhaps. I respect Hand's desire to be different, but this one didn't seem to fit into Titan at all. Had he drawn up his own gamebook, independent of FF, it would have been much better. As it is, the pulp serial is exactly the wrong type of thing to put into a fantasy adventure.

Rating: 6.0/10



When I first bought my copy of Moonrunner from a local second-hand shop I was interested more in having it for my collection than spending the time actually reading it. The cover art for Moonrunner did little to pique my interest and for a number of years it has remained tucked away, waiting for the time when I might finally get round to playing it through. That time came recently and as it proved to be a book from which a reader could form a number of very different opinions I thought it would make a good subject for a review.

For this reason I have written, for your consideration, a review of Fighting Fantasy #48 - Moonrunner.

I can say to start that I do not have all the FF books, but I do have most and I have found that the quality of the stories can range from barely pedestrian to excellent. This does not mean that I don't enjoy them all, it is just for different reasons. I am somewhat undecided about where exactly Moonrunner fits within this range however. There are some aspects of its writing and gameplay that are very good, but also there exists an underlying difficulty with how the adventure plays out that detracts greatly from its ability to keep a reader engaged.

The first thing that struck me about the book is the amount of work the author must have put into the planning and design of the adventure. As will be seen later this story is set mostly within one particular location, but manages to tread a path to every corner of it. Having written a few gamebooks in my time I know how challenging it can be, keeping the logic of a story consistent no matter what options the reader may take. In all but a few cases the author was able to provide a solid connection between the sections even when the story paths became quite complex.

You begin this adventure as a Hero of some note, having done many brave and impressive things over the years. Your objective is very straightforward and given to you right from the introduction. An Arch-villain has deposited himself somewhere in the town of Blackhaven and it is your task to find him and bring him to justice. For you there are personal reasons for taking it on, and as an objective it is one that seems relatively straightforward, that is until you actually begin the adventure. What unfolds before you is a convoluted search, one that contains many pitfalls and so many ways to die quickly that it easily becomes quite irritating.

The town of Blackhaven is well represented by its map, and the illustrations are very nicely done, bringing a creepy mood to many of the encounters you face. Of the positive things about the book I must say that the illustrations were at the top of the list. Well drawn and relevant to the storyline I found them better than most, and because of them the book itself proved a little easier to trawl through.

Character generation is simple and a choice of Special Skills gives your hero a number of very useful talents. It proved in the course of the adventure that the skills you choose affect your ability to succeed in the quest considerably. Some skills are relied upon a lot whilst others aren't used at all. It did seem that the possession of some of the skills was essential to finishing the story. In many cases there could be no progress forward unless you did have the skill required and important items or paths in the story were lost if you didn't, leading to an ultimate failure later in the book.

Although the general rules common to most FF books are used, a large number of special rules pertaining to different items or circumstances are introduced in the body of the story. Most of these rules seemed overly complex and I am sure would not have been properly noted or remembered by most players. I know I didn't.

I found the writing style uncluttered and direct although it did have its atmospheric and inventive moments. The general feel of the setting was dark and chaotic and the writer did give a good account of a town lost to villainy and the machinations of an evil power. There were however, many sections where the fortunes of the hero could turn on the span of a few sentences. Abruptly a reader would find themselves imprisoned or about to be killed and then just as abruptly make a miraculous escape, usually without any real explanation. A number of times I found myself re-reading a section just to determine what had happened for I was sure I had missed something important.

Much of the adventure is spent making your way around Blackhaven, trying to find the devices or artifacts that others tell you are important to the quest. Most proved to be so in the end but it was a tedious business, the need to return to the same section over and over a part of the story that could have been treated differently. Ultimately the hero spends the majority of his time finding these items whilst convenient messages and directions fall into his hands as he is doing so. Finding the villain of the piece, Karam Gruul, takes a while, and mostly only after considerable effort has been expended on the finding of the needed items.

Although I will give nothing away on the conclusion to this story I can say that it is satisfactory. The final confrontation is nicely measured to what you have done in your quest and in the end you even find out what a Moonrunner is, something that had me wondering from the beginning of the adventure.

It took me five restarts to find an end to this story. You die very easily along the way but with each time through you begin to see a logic to what you should or shouldn't do in the town. The encounters in the main are very good. There are more than enough demonic, spectral and just plain ugly things to fight, and most do enhance the horror/fantasy style brought to the setting. Once or twice I did find myself up against particularly difficult opponents only to be saved by the most unlikely of circumstances. It is a lesson learnt by one particular adversary that you shouldn't stand on the top of a hill in a thunderstorm if you are made of metal.

The most curious aspect of this book is the tangled path you have to follow to eventually find the villain and then bring him to justice. There is no real logic to it, and mostly your finding of Karam Gruul relies on information fed to you as the book progresses, rather than unearthing it yourself through any process of deduction or discovery. The number of red herrings thrown your way is huge, and many end in a quick and unavoidable death. It is an unnecessary feature of the book that it is very easy to die, and it does leave the reader having to restart the book, or retrace steps far more times than the story should require.

There is a lot to Moonrunner that I found enjoyable. You get to meet a lot of characters, fight a large number of unusual creatures, and have to work out one particularly clever puzzle to obtain one of the items needed to defeat the villain. There were times however, when I could easily have put the book down but in the end I found myself challenged enough to find a way through the maze of options and dead-ends to reach its conclusion.

Moonrunner is not the sort of gamebook that I would read again once completed. In finishing the story you must exhaust almost all the searching, travelling and fighting required to find its end, and in the final confrontation with Karam Gruul it is evident that little of the story remains undiscovered to make a further reading worthwhile.

In conclusion I can say that as a part of the FF series Moonrunner is certainly not the worst, and if you want a story that requires a lot of leg-work on the part of the Hero then this is the one for you.

Ratings: out of 5

Gameplay: 3
Artwork: 4
Writing/Story; 3
Fairness: 2
Replay Value: 1
Overall: 3


[Chris Page]

This is an interesting book. As a bounty hunter, your job is to track down and bring Karam Gruul to justice. This is in actual fact one of my favourites after Knights of Doom and Spellbreaker. Why? Well the first thing you find in the book is that your at a scene of a murder. You instantly wonder who did it. Not that it matters but you immediately get that feeling of not knowing what's going to happen. And from there you wander round the town of Blackhaven findin some very bizzare people and occurences. What other book can boast a Corpse Master who looks more like the Phantom of the Opera and can't speak proper English. The book also offers a bit of light relief at times, such as the zombie who is clearly impervious to pain wandering around the town killing anyone in his path (including hundreds of people at an art gallery) and Craven asylum. But what makes this book especially good is the way a new twist to the book keeps being added every now and again and the way your hatred for Karam Gruul increases as he continues to go around murdering anyone important. The difficulty of this also seems to be just right. You won't complete in on your first go, nor your second but it seems to be just right for you to progress a little further each time you play. And the inclusion of special skills which seem to work perfectly in this book when they wouldn't in others make this one a worthwhile read.

Rating: 8.0/10


[Sean R. Rook]


You play a bounty-hunter with a specific agenda, to bring to justice the worst offenders of war-crimes perpetuated by villains in the recent War of Four Nations. There is only one left, Karm Gruul, and recent evidence shows that he has finally come out of hiding. There can be no doubt that his reemergence speaks of some evil plot and you are the only one who can track him down and stop his schemes.

The descriptions, artwork, characters, and overall tone of this book place it as my unquestioned first choice among the Fighting Fantasy books. I've read perhaps 20 of them altogether and the only other one that comes close to being this good is Deathtrap Dungeon - but there has obviously been more work put into the setting for Moonrunner. 
Although you play the hero, there is more to his past than usual and by the end you learn that his goals are much personal and the path he chose, that off the bounty hunter, was a means to an end.

As always, I love how there is a specific setting and timeline to where most of the fantasy versions of these books take place. It's not unusual for one to make reference to places or events that take place in other books - although this one seems to take place further in the future and doesn't have as much to relate to (although the intro on your charcter lists some nifty exploits).

Highly recommended to anyone that is interested in these sorts of books.


[John Stock]

And now, ladies and gentlemen, we have Fighting Fantasy number 48, Moonrunner. The creation of Stephen Hand, one of the most controversial authors in FF, this is written in his distinctive gothic style, rather like a Hammer Horror Film, so he says.

The plot is pretty good - after a MAJOR war in the Old World the dictators of Brice have all been brought to justice. All, that is, except one. Karam Gruul, the Inquisitor General, otherwise known as the "Hand of Death" was pretty much the most evil of the lot, and it's up to the player to hunt him down and capture him. He is somewhere in the area, but nobody knows where...

Good points include the subtleness of Hand's traps - check out the razor blade trap. This involves the player falling down a pit which is rapidly filling with water. Luckily there is a convenient beam he can climb out with. However, this beam is literally TOO convenient as along the top of it is a razor-sharp serrated blade. And when the player attempts to use this beam it's bye-bye to three of your fingers. Ouch!

Then there are the Wards of Notura. These are crucial, yet I have a small gripe about them - the most important, the Skull of Mora Tao, is very easy to get as long as you don't trust the gravediggers, Kilmarney and Hogg, one inch. Yet a less important one, the Mask of Belthegor, is almost impossible to lay your hands on! Thankfully you don't need all six.

Another gripe is an oddity which occurs in a lot of FF books, and that is the fact that it doesn't end on Paragraph 400. It does infact end on Paragraph 99, yet there are the regulation 400 paragraphs. I do not like this practice of "ending in the middle" one little bit - it is illogical and infuriating. But overall, Moonrunner comes in the top echelons of FF in my opinion. Just don't waste petrol going up to Aberdeen or wherever to grab a copy 'cos you want it so badly, ok?

MY RATING - 8.5/10


[Richard Wood]

Moonrunner is a typically dark and moody offering from Stephen Hand. Set over a hundred years ago in Gallantaria, shortly after the War of the Four Kingdoms, you are a bounty hunter who specialises in tracking down war criminals and bringing them to justice. Summoned to the city of Blackhaven on the Border River ("a place so dangerous that the City Guards have to go around in groups of ten"), your task is to find the most notorious and powerful war criminal of all: the sorceror Karam Gruul, Inquisitor General of Brice. Aside from the fact that he nearly destroyed your country and has the blood of thousands on his hands, the score is personal - during the War he turned you into a Moonrunner, some kind of foul magical creature of evil with no will of your own (although oddly enough you don't find this out until the end of the book). When the only man who knows about your mission is assassinated in paragraph 1 you are on your own against the covert legions of your mortal enemy.

Right from the start this book oozes conspiracy and intrigue. Gruul is served by a secret cabal of four hundred spies, double agents and assassins who have infiltrated every level of society in Blackhaven and will waste no opportunity to attempt to misdirect and kill you. They anticipate your every move and accordingly almost every direction leads to some kind of set-up, trap or ambush. You have very few allies on this quest and you will soon learn to trust no-one! There are even secret organisations within secret organisations. This quickly creates an impression that you are hopelessly outnumbered by shadowy enemies who may be anyone and anywhere, watching your progress and plotting your demise, and leads to the feeling that you are in the Omen trilogy or The Truman Show, struggling alone against a nebulous foe. By far the most entertaining character in the book is Conrad Zaar, a double agent in the City Guard. He begins the adventure as a human, but once you kill him he becomes an invincible undead warrior who will repeatedly return to attack you at more than one location in the book. The undead appear frequently in this book, many of them as members of Gruul's network, and Zaar is not the only one who may make a reappearance.

Gruul himself is a sorceror of great power. When you finally confront him he will cast any of six spells (chosen by a die roll) of which at least one will certainly kill you - and he may cast more than one. Your only protection against them are six magical artifacts which you may, but do not have to, acquire in Blackhaven. I found this to be far better than the Ian Livingstone style of gamebook where you absolutely must collect everything or die. In this book you are allowed the strategic choice between long-term and short-term survival: you can either risk your life to gather as many items as possible to guarantee ultimate success against Gruul, or you can avoid undertaking too many perilous diversions and risk the die roll. It is therefore possible to complete the adventure with no items, but the price is that success depends on pure chance.

You begin the book with a choice of four Special Skills from a list of nine. You will need to choose them carefully as you will fail unless you have chosen at least one of the two most important skills. Although having Special Skills makes gamebooks more interesting it does rather detract from the adventure when the choices you make before you even start can get you killed. This is Moonrunner's only real flaw and mars an otherwise perfect score.

Rating: 9 out of 10