FF54: Legend of Zagor

Nicholas Campbell
Kieran Coghlan
Shane Garvey
Jared Milne
Laurence Sinclair
John Stock


[Nicholas Campbell]

Zagor, the infamous Warlock of Firetop Mountain, has been banished from the world of Titan, and has now ended up in another world - Amarillia. He is currently regaining his strength within Castle Argent, on Tower Island, and this time, he must be stopped (again). Who will enter Castle Argent and take on this mighty challenge?

In Legend of Zagor, you can choose one of four characters - Anvar the Barbarian, Braxus the Warrior, Stubble the Dwarf, or Sallazar the Wizard. If you've read The Zagor Chronicles - a set of four Fighting Fantasy novels which are set in Amarillia - you'll recognise three of those names, with Sallazar replacing Jallarial. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, which you will discover as you play the game.

At this stage, I should point out that although Ian Livingstone is officially the author of Legend of Zagor, I'm not really convinced. The style of writing, and the numerous extra rules, strongly suggest that it was actually written by Keith Martin. I don't have any conclusive evidence that this is the case, but it's a subject which is worthy of debate.

Legend of Zagor is essentially a trawl through a dungeon, but it's a highly enjoyable one all the same. Unlike most dungeon-based gamebooks, where you must visit rooms in a set sequence and cannot backtrack, Legend of Zagor allows you to visit a group of several rooms in any order you want. (Isn't that a feature of many of Keith Martin's gamebooks?) Zagor is a very powerful opponent - with a SKILL of 16 and a STAMINA of 20, he's not someone to treat lightly - but he can be weakened by collecting Golden Talismans and Silver Daggers, which can be found by opening Tower Chests. There are several of these scattered around Castle Argent, and you'll need to hunt high and low for them, otherwise you have little chance of defeating Zagor.

Zagor is not the only powerful opponent that you will face, however. There are many other powerful opponents which are found at certain stages within the castle. One great thing about Legend of Zagor is that the difficulty level is handled very nicely indeed. It starts off easily enough - a few SKILL 7 or 8 monsters are the toughest opponents you'll face early on - but as you reach your ultimate goal, SKILL 9 or 10 monsters with STAMINA scores of nearly 20, or even more, become common, and even the toughest characters will become worn down with all the fighting! However, there are many items which can be collected to make things easier, and with the exception of Sallazar, each character has a weapon and/or suit of armour to increase their Attack Strength. Of course, as with the Tower Chests, finding these items requires a thorough search of Castle Argent.

Spells and Magic Points are another important aspect of Legend of Zagor. Obviously, Sallazar is the best character for this, but all the other characters can cast spells if they can find scrolls with spells written on them. Most spells cost 1-3 Magic Points to cast, although Magic Rings can be collected to replenish Magic Points. As you can tell, there are a lot of items to collect in this gamebook! (That's a feature of Ian Livingstone's gamebooks, but isn't it also a feature of...? Oh, you know what I'm going to say.)

The ability to choose one of four characters and solve the gamebook differently for each character adds a whole new dimension to Legend of Zagor which is not seen in any of the other Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, with the exception of the Sorcery! series. The only criticisms I have are that certain characters start off with a low LUCK score (if you are Braxus or Sallazar, it can start as low as 4!), and that the route to success is much tougher for Stubble than it is for Anvar or Braxus, because he ultimately cannot make use of a certain item which makes some powerful opponents much easier to defeat. Other than that, Legend of Zagor is an engrossing gamebook which will last you a long time. I think it's one of the best gamebooks - maybe THE best - in the Fighting Fantasy series.

Rating: 10/10


[Kieran Coghlan]

Legend of Zagor's authorship has long been a matter of controversy among fans of the series. It bears few similarities to Ian Livingstone's other game books while being very like Keith Martin's. What cannot be denied however is that Legend of Zagor is one of the most ambitious books in the series.

The plot is pretty basic. Zagor, the villain in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain and Return to Firetop Mountain has eluded death again and ahs been transported to the magical world of Amarillia where he has merged with the Bone Demon; an evil monster that had been defeated in Amarillia's recent past. The Zagor demon plans to conquer the world and it's up to you to stop him. If you haven't read any of the previous books featuring Zagor, you'll probably be a bit non-plussed as to who he actually is. Furthermore fans of the previous two Zagor books will de disappointed that there are very few references to them.

What makes this book particularly memorable is that, unlike all the other books in the series, you can choose from a selection of four characters to play as. These characters are the heroes of the Zagor Chronicles novels, although Jallarial is replaced by her brother Sallazar - which, apart from seeming somewhat sexist (it's not like the series had no female fans), is rather disappointing as she was the only Zagor Chronicles character with any substance. At any rate, each of the characters (Braxus the warrior, Anvar the barbarian, Stubble the dwarf and Sallazar the wizard) has his own advantages and disadvantages. While a nice idea, it doesn't really work out in practice: Anvar and Braxus are fairly evenly matched, but Stubble is going to struggle and Sallazar is just plain rubbish due to the terrible magic system in the book. He is really too weak to hold his own against the tougher opponents and his magic is of little help as the more offensive spells can only be cast a few times and since they require you to win an attack round for them to work, most of the time they won't do him any good.

The gameplay of the book involves you sneaking around the castle, gathering various items to help you against the tougher opponents of the book. While you can rush through this, doing so will make you far too weak to stand against the enemies at the end. You are therefore required to painstakingly search every inch of the castle. Needless to say this takes a lot of time and it will actually take you about 3-4 hours to get through the book. Unfortunately there's little to hold your interest while doing so and while the author has created a believable abandoned castle, searching through rooms that are either empty or filled with ridiculously tough, but rather forgettable enemies is not my idea of a particularly entertaining adventure. Had the plot been a bit stronger this might not have been such a problem, but as it is the book fast become tiresome. The author's writing is detailed enough to be immersive, but it isn't really thrilling, but Martin McKenna's moody artwork adds greatly to the proceedings.

What adds to the tiresome nature is the excessive amount of things to keep track of. On top of the usual Skill, Stamina and Luck, there's a Magic score which has to be changed regularly. You are also required to eat meals regularly, so your Provisions tally will fluctuate greatly. Furthermore, the special weapons you can find are pretty hard to keep track of. There are some that give you certain bonuses against certain enemies and not others, some that have to be charged with magic, some that can only be used at the start of a battle, and some that can only be used a certain amount of times. The book also features time-consuming battles with multiple opponents with high Stamina scores and annoying special abilities. And then there's the oh-so-fun converting names into numbers which occurs regularly. And then if you die near the end (a likely occurrence given the toughness of the last few enemies) you have to go through it all again.

While Legend of Zagor has to be respected for managing to design a complex, non-linear setting, it's a pity the book just isn't very fun or fair.


[Shane Garvey]

The third and final book in the ‘Zagor trilogy’, Legend of Zagor follows on from events in Return to Firetop Mountain, though this time the story takes place in another world. It was published in 1993 and written by Ian Livingstone.

Once again a hero is needed to thwart the plans of Zagor, who this time has fused his body with that of a demon. Unlike previous books and in fact unique in the Fighting Fantasy series, you get to choose from four different heroes to play as: Barbarian, Dwarf, Warrior and Wizard. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages which come into play throughout the story, a fact which makes this book quite replayable.

Once you have chosen a hero, you set off in search of Zagor. He is in the ruins of Castle Argent this time rather than beneath Firetop Mountain and, although this book has much in common with a dungeon crawl, it is much more dynamic; you can return to previous areas of the book in certain circumstances, for instance. The inhabitants and traps of in the castle also make more sense than in the previous two Zagor books; they all have a reason to be there, even the people who are friendly towards you (the knight you can meet is the only surviving knight and has holed up, for example).

The text itself and the way the story is written is an improvement again over Return to Firetop Mountain (which was an improvement over The Warlock of Firetop Mountain). Like the previous books, you still need to collect certain items along the way (golden talismans and silver daggers in this case) but you can still win without actually gaining any of these. And although the book is difficult, it is not too difficult; you always feel that you are not far away from winning and, with the choice of four different characters to play as, you always feel that the book is different on subsequent read-throughs.

Another thing that stood out to me in the book was the artwork: I have always been a fan of Martin McKenna, and in this book he has excelled. It really captures the story quite well.

My record with the book was not great. I played four times (once with each character) and didn’t complete it. I did make it to the final encounter with Zagor while playing as Stubble the Dwarf, but did not survive (I entered combat against him with only 2 STAMINA points...) Still, each read-through was quite enjoyable. Overall a good book and recommended.

RATING: 8.5 out of 10


[Jared Milne]

This book works in standard FF fashion, but with some great twists - you can play as the heroes of the Zagor Chronicles. This part alone makes it worthwhile, since you have four choices of heroes.  For some strange reason, Sallazar replaces Jallarial. Why Ian (who wrote the book) did this, I don't really know, but it probably had something to do with the much greater number of male FF readers. I would have thought it an interesting change to play as a female character for once.

Anyway, the book has no one true path, since different characters will need different items, and they all have varying special abilities, as well. Each of the three warriors can find a special magic weapon that will work to best effect only in their hands, and Sallazar can find a special item to make his weapon magical. The parameters for LUCK, however, don't seem to make a lot of sense; Braxus and Sallazar only get a bonus of 3 to luck, and Stubble gets a bonus of 5. Anvar has a bonus of 4. Seems kind of low in my opinion, since the book gets rougher later on.

A great aspect of this book is that your success in exploring the dungeon of Castle Argent will determine how well you fare against the Big Z himself in the final battle. Special items are scattered around the dungeon in Tower Chests. These little items are extremely important, because Big Z is _the_ nastiest foe in FF, and you'll need to reduce his SKILL and STAMINA scores as much as possible to win.

Other interesting things include a nifty spell system, which can fully be used only by choosing Sallazar, of course, but the other adventurers can use spell scrolls that you can find, and there's also a special spell that _anyone_ can learn midway through the adventure. However, I don't think that Sallazar has enough MPs to maximize his spells, since casting spells against every foe in combat will drain your magic pretty fast, and there aren't that many ways of replenishing it. Instead of Stamina, you expend Magic Points, which go from 7 for Sallazar to 1 for Anvar.  They can be used to cast spells or charge certain magical items you might find during your adventure.

Bad parts: Ian plays a pretty nasty trick on players who pick Stubble, since the monster that guards the wing of the castle where his special weapon is located can only be hurt by magical implements. Unless you have some enchanting oil, or you have the special sword you might have found before, you won't succeed. The War Dragon you have to fight right before Zagor is a really nasty foe, and a big problem is posed in simply getting up there in the first place. There are a few 'boss' monsters, special servants of Zagor, that must be fought to solve the book, no matter what you do. Some monsters, like Grool, are a boss to all the characters, but the Dark Knight only has to be fought by Braxus, for example.

Overall, a very good book, especially in having to find the Tower Chests. Some of them are very well hidden. Some of the boss monsters are extremely powerful foes, and none of them are pushovers. The book also gets progressively nastier in combats and traps, as well, but the rewards get bigger.

Rating: 9.0/10


[Laurence Sinclair]

This is the last Ian Livingstone book, and perhaps the greatest FF of all time. Bucking his usual tradition, the author has gone for an adventure where the hero is free to wander off and explore without fear of missing a vital item needed to complete the adventure. Instead, there are merely useful finds, like items that will weaken your final nemesis, or aid you in combat against his lesser servants. The focus here is on game, rather than a novel broken down into FF format.

Once more Zagor has arisen, but this time he has travelled to another world. Even there, though, he is not safe from Yaztromo's meddling, and again you are a hero that must kill him. Only now you have a choice of characters, and the ability to use spells.

The magic system here is different to Citadel of Chaos. Rather than choosing spells at the start and only getting to use them when specified in the text, you have an allowance of points that can be spent on spells as and when you choose, with pre-written results should they be cast. I've never played the board game based on this book, but I'm sure the system is very similar to that, and that, perhaps, is why this book is so open-ended.

With four characters, there are really four different adventures to be completed, as each will have to make use of different skills and items to succeed. Each will have to find a magic weapon, for one thing, and these are not easy to come by.

The characteristics of each of the warriors have been played around with to some extent, the most dramatic of which is the LUCK score. For some reason it is pitifully low, and to make things worse at the very start you must lose 1 LUCK point or face a SKILL 10 monster. Hardly fair when one of the characters has maximum SKILL 10 and LUCK 9, is it?

This low blow, in combination with the fact that the tale isn't set on Titan, loses it some points, but they can't prevent the sheer size and freedom of the adventure winning out in the end. Ian Livingstone couldn't possibly have chosen a better swansong.

Rating: 9 out of 10


[John Stock]

This FF book was the first FF I ever read and it absolutely captivated me. It may not have any special rules, with the exception of Livingstone's player choice - you can be any one of the four heroes of the Zagor Chronicles, except Jallarial who is replaced by Sallazar.

As a sequel to The Warlock of Firetop Mountain and Return to Firetop Mountain, Legend of Zagor is the third in the epic series which involves "the evil that will not die!". Except it's different this time, as Zagor has left Titan and been banished to the world of Amarillia. And you, as one of the four motley crew that were the stars of the Zagor Chronicles, have to get rid of Zagor who is holed out in Castle Argent, the other end of Amarillia.

Once inside Castle Argent the untrained eye will see it as a standard hack-and-slash dungeon adventure. Dungeon Crawl? Yes. Standard? No. Before you get to actually meet Zagor face to face, you must first find the Dragon Bone Keys. Also it is necessary to capture Special Treasures - which will lower Zagor's stats - from the various rooms of the castle. In addition, having your character's special weapon helps. These special weapons are taken from various very powerful creatures within the dungeons of the castle, e.g. Braxus the Warrior would have to fight the Black Knight to get his special weapon.

When you do reach the tower, as I did on attempt #1, you come face-to-face with a Dragon. Specifically, a SKILL 15 STAMINA 20 dragon, and there's no way round it! When you DO beat the dragon, you finally encounter Zagor. And he's not a human any more but a Demon. And even when you DO beat him, it's still not over as you've got to dispose of his body. I won't say how, but if you've got a low STAMINA score you'll not be turning to paragraph 400 here!

Well, to sum up... I couldn't say the book was absolutely flawless. The only gripe I myself have with it is the stats of the enemies. Repeatedly you come up against strong monsters, especially towards the end of the adventure, and unless you fudge the dice rolls like what I did, you have very little chance of beating Zagor, even if you are loaded down with Golden Talismans and Silver Daggers.

This book is very rare indeed. I have not seen it sold in any second-hand bookshops, but if you see it, GET IT! If you are really desperate, buy from an online auction like eBay or QXL.

MY RATING - 9.6/10