FF57: Magehunter

Nicholas Campbell
Kieran Coghlan
Jared Milne
John Stock


[Nicholas Campbell]

It seems that Paul Mason cannot write a gamebook without making it frustratingly difficult, and ensuring that the background is unusual and confusing - so it should not come as a surprise that Magehunter is more of the same.

You are a Magehunter with a well-deserved reputation, working for the Margrave Mechtner. You have just captured the sorcerer Mencius, who is taken to the dungeon in the Margrave's castle, when you learn that the Margrave is dead. During the meal after the funeral, his successor, Reinhardt, runs off to the dungeon, and he, Mencius and you are transported to Titan. Can you defeat Mencius once and for all and return to your own world?

Included with this gamebook is the Most Revered Treatise of Mage Hunting, which summarises the knowledge about mages that you have acquired through the years. Among other things, it reveals that wizards can be restrained with a rope of human hair; they cannot protect themselves against their own sorcery; they do not eat fish; their bodies swell to twice their size if thrown into water; and that every 101st footprint that wizards leave is that of a cat. Erm, right. This may be reasonably sensible in the world that you, the Magehunter, come from (although the bit about wizards not being able to protect themselves with their own sorcery is frankly baffling), but in Titan, it becomes quite nonsensical.

Magehunter is unusual in that you can gain the ability to switch bodies. When you enter Titan, you discover that you are in Reinhardt's body, Reinhardt is in Mencius' body, and therefore Mencius must be in your body. Later on, you can also enter Mencius' body. This means that for most of the game, you must use the SKILL and STAMINA scores of the body you are currently in, which is always a lot lower than what you started the game with. Being forced to use weakened scores in this way is annoying, and not only that, you lose nearly all of your magehunting equipment! This is not what I like to see in a Fighting Fantasy gamebook, and it marred what little enthusiasm I had for Magehunter.

All of this switching bodies requires additional sets of SKILL and STAMINA scores, and lists of equipment, to maintain. Magehunter also uses a system of writing down words on your Adventure Sheet which chart the actions you have performed, like The Crimson Tide before it. It also shares many of the flaws of the Crimson Tide. The difficulty level is once again extremely high; there are many, many routes you can take, and if you stray off the correct route at all and don't collect all the necessary items and carry out all the necessary actions to ensure victory against Mencius, you have no chance of winning. Still, at least you don't have to fail a dice roll to complete the game this time, and the Riddling Reaver makes an appearance somewhere within the book.

Paul Mason may think he knows how to write excellent Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. Well, he's wrong. I'm not keen on his work, and it seems that many other Fighting Fantasy fans share my sentiments. Magehunter is an example of how not to write a gamebook, and I think it's one of the worst Titan-based Fighting Fantasy gamebooks.

Rating: 4/10


[Kieran Coghlan]

Paul Mason's FF books have always been more ambitious than the others that made up the series so it is only fitting that his final addition to the series is his most ambitious yet. The only problem is it is maybe a bit too ambitious.

The premise is interesting in that it has you magically transported from your homeworld, which is more advanced than Titan in that it has developed flintlock pistols and the like, and you come to Southern Allansia in pursuit of a wizard. It's not quite that simple however, as there has been some body switching going on, and it is up to you to put everything right. While this plot is clever and certainly out of the ordinary, the whole fish-out-of-water premise does not quite work. The reason for this is that unless you are a relative newcomer to FF, you're likely to know far more about Allansia than you do the protagonist's home world (the only things we know about that is that it is like 16th/17th century Europe in terms of technology, all wizards are evil, and everyone has Germanic names) making it hard to empathise with the main character. Nor are there any major plot twists along the way making this ultimately another "Kill the Evil Wizard" FF book albeit a bit more inventive than most. One thing I did like is that the focus of the plot is neither on the protagonist nor the antagonist, but on the companion you drag round with you. His personality develops throughout the book, which was a very nice touch.

As far as the gameplay goes, if you are familiar with Mason's other books, it will not surprise you that this is a tough book. The route to victory is very narrow, and there are lots of false paths; however, there is a logic to beating it. At the start of the book you are given "The Most Revered Treatise of Magehunting" which details the methods of hunting down a mage. This is actually cleverly implemented as you need to actually consider your situation before you use these methods; for instance, drawing a holy symbol on the earth may point you to the nearest mage, but is that necessarily the mage you are after? It is clever stuff and definitely the best implemented part of the book. The problems in gameplay come with the amount of variables to keep track of. Mason does a good job using codewords and key items to monitor progress, but there are one or two inconsistencies that do appear although nothing too serious. There are also a few things that are made unclear. For instance, the book says that you can have access to your Companion's items - I assume that means you can swap items with him, but can you for instance switch clothing with each other? Futhermore, at one stage you can visit a storyteller, but the book does not make it clear whether you have to have heard of these storytellers before. However, the real problem is that because of the amount of variables and the amount of routes offered to you, the book itself is quite short. The route to victory has few particularly exciting encounters (the exceptions being the well written and designed final confrontation and an imaginative, but annoyingly arbitary section just before it) and the book punishes you for exploring. All too often, you will die in this book simply because you run out of options and have to do something stupid. More could certainly have been made of exploring Kallamehr - as it is, it is rather unsatisfying. I think the book could have benefited from being a tad longer though I understand that Mason had to stay in the 400 paragraph limit. As far as combat goes, the book is designed in such a way that high stats are not really any help. The battles are designed so that the odds are slightly in your favour, but a few unlucky dice rolls will finish you off quite quickly. All in all, it is a book you have to be very patient with.

Mason's writing is up to his usual high standard, and he makes Menicus suitably menacing and your companion Reinhardt suitably whiny, but I found the ending a bit vague as to what actually happened. Russ Nicholson's illustrations, however, are not his best work. They are not bad, but he is capable of so much more.

To summarise, while Magehunter is quite entertaing in places and quite cleverly designed, it does have several faults and is unfortunately Paul Mason's least satisfying FF book.




This is a strange little gamebook which certainly can't be faulted for originality. Like all the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, it is written in the second person with the reader/player as main protagonist, and combines narrative elements containing choices of direction with a statistical combat and incident resolution system. Where it is unusual is that the player-character switches between different bodies in the course of the quest, in some cases playing alongside a companion. He has also come to the Fighting Fantasy world from the outside, through a magic portal, and is in an alien environment (along with some technologies unknown to Titan, such as pistols).

The book contains an unusually wide array of variables - whether the character has switched bodies, whether he is aware of having done so, whether he is with a companion, which bodies he and his companion are in, whether the companion has died or been lost - which are tracked within the story through an intricate system of items and codewords associated with different variables. The book must have been amazingly complicated to write in order to avoid discontinuities.

As a story, the book is genuinely multilinear, although tending to reproduce certain paths. The bulk of the story is set in the area of Titan around Kallamehr, firmly within the regular Fighting Fantasy universe. However, the player-character is a magehunter from a world other than the main setting, where different situations exist (all mages are evil, are identified by certain traits, can only be harmed in specific ways, etc). This character has captured an evil mage, Mencius, but the mage escapes and abducts Reinhardt, the heir to the throne, through a magic portal which leads to Titan. The player character either tags along or follows behind, and is left trying to track Mencius and/or Reinhardt through an unfamiliar world. The area of Titan is predominantly desert, with walled cities and a distinctly Arabic feel (Rocs, genies, flying carpets, storytellers, bandits and traders are among the encounters; characters have names such as Al-Bakbuk and Al-Haddar). While somewhat stereotypical, the portrayal is not overly hostile, and includes helpful and sympathetic Arab characters as well as a few hostile ones; mostly the book plays on the positive stereotypes of hospitality and generosity. The player character, hunting either Mencius or Reinhardt and possibly accompanied by the latter, may encounter and have to deal with a local mage, or visit a local town to make purchases or obtain information, before finally arriving in Kallamehr for the book's culmination.

As a game or puzzle, the book is original and challenging. The ideas of the book are clever, standing out from the general Fighting Fantasy series as unusual and original. The book relies on memory and observation, putting to use the player's knowledge and application of the magehunting rules set out at the beginning. One weakness is that large quantities of the 400 sections (a long passage with dark elves for instance, and another with a manticore and giant crab) lie along paths which the player is unlikely ever to meet, relying on sets of variables which the player is unlikely to find or repeat. This means that the main body of the text is actually quite short. Most players will quickly discover the core mystery of who is in which body fairly quickly (usually on the first try), making them unlikely to make the expected mistakes on other subsequent courses where it is not revealed. However, the actual writing expresses clearly what the player-character would feel on each course - urgency if he is seeking Mencius, much less if he is seeking Reinhardt, for example.

The adventure is also complicated and depends on some slightly irrational choices, meaning that the player may have to go through a series of short, frustrating adventures with little separating the initial sections from an unsuccessful final fight. The optimal ending (there are also various other more-or-less "good" outcomes) is difficult to find; there are few clues to finding it, it is unlikely to occur to the player and is structurally disconnected from most of the other endings, so it is easy to become frustrated trying to find it.


[Jared Milne]

First off, I must confess that I am not a fan of Paul Mason's books. They are incredibly difficult, and I find quite often that if you make one error, kiss your butt goodbye, since you won't succeed. The reason I bought this one was because I thought you'd have a companion with you. You can get one, but he's not of much help.

Magehunter is no exception. Like "The Crimson Tide", there's a system of writing down words such as "lost", "kal", "trail", and so forth that are supposed to let the book monitor your progress. It's rather irritating to keep track of all the words. Also, there are a myriad of routes you can pick, not all of which are helpful.

The premise starts off in a Renaissance-era setting. Your character has a flintlock pistol and a rapier, and I doubt that armor is in very high demand. You are a magehunter, which would equate to a witchhunter in 1500s colonial America or Europe, I suppose. All wizards are evil -- you've never met one that's good. You come to Titan through a magical transport spell cast by a wizard you're pursuing (I don't want to give away too much), and you arrive in the Kallamehr region. You must track down the wizard Mencius, kill him, and get back to your own world.

Note that getting high ability scores are worthless in this book, you spend most of it in another body, and won't get to use these excellent stats. If you feel shafted from that, I don't blame you.  There are several endings in this book, and to get the best one you have to go through a precise route, in traditional Paul Mason style.

I found myself scratching my head about the "Most Revered Treatise of Magehunting" at the start.  Sure, it might work for the wizards on your character's world, but on Titan, quite frankly, it's a joke. I highly doubt Titan wizards would be detected by holy symbols of a god that has no power in Titan, or that wizards on Titan do not eat fish. Still, since the villain is the only one bound by these constraints, it should help you. I don't think Yaztromo could be bound by a rope of human hair, do you? Didn't think so.

You also have to master the fine art of body-switching, both with your foe and your companion.  Yet another stat to keep track of, plus the fact that you start off with zilch in the way of cash when you come to Titan.

Paul Mason, sadly, has created yet another very complicated, twisting, one-mistake-and-you-lose book. Magehunting rules that violate everything we know about Titan wizards, a very low tolerance for error, and being shafted out of your own ability scores makes for a very lame book, even worse than the Crimson Tide. To be fair, however, even this is better than any of the books set in space, which, IMO, are almost universally garbage. (House of Hell, though, _is_ creepy.)

Rating: 4.0/10


[John Stock]

Quite frankly, this FF book blows.

The difficulty level is stupidly high, the plot is wishy-washy, and Paul Mason manages to cheat you out of your stats. This wouldn't be such a problem if all the enemies were equally weakened, but no... this is Paul Mason we're on about!

The premise is that the player follows the evil mage Mencius across the planar rift from some world to Kallamehr in Allansia. Once there, the player must hunt him down and destroy him. This is easier said than done. There may well be lots to do in this book, but often a crucial item can be missed and you don't know about it whatsoever. This is just harsh.

Why in the name of the sacred fishfart there is this "Treatise of Mage Hunting" which contravenes all we know about FF I'll never know.

To sum up, this book blows. Avoid it if you value your sanity!

MY RATING - 4.4/10