FF8: Scorpion Swamp

David Anderson
Per Jorner
Demian Katz
Robert La Vallie
Doug Riddell
Bryan Spargo
Andrew Whittingham
David Whyld


[David Anderson]

Scorpion Swamp had some initial promise it never lived up to. First off, rather than having the same quest in every session you can embark on one of three different quests with a different alignment. Also, magical spells are a part of your arsenal as they were in Citadel of Chaos. The problem is the book isn't very engaging. It's a dungeon crawl in a swamp. None of the mystique that saved Warlock of Firetop Mountain from a similar fate is to be found. Maybe if the series had been around a little longer and more authors had experimented with tweaking the system first, the approach taken in this book could have been made more engaging. As it is, Scorpion Swamp isn't the book I hoped it would be, and I don't recommend it.


[Per Jorner]

This is the book that turned me off buying FF books for 13 years. I got this one and Demons of the Deep at the same time, thinking of course both of them to be written by the "original" Steve Jackson and not learning otherwise until just recently. DotD isn't what I would call actively bad, but this is. It's a failed experiment that should never have survived past the concept stage, that runs counter to the spirit of Fighting Fantasy and instead tries to be more like a computer or board game.

In case you don't know, in Scorpion Swamp you can move freely back and forth in a grid of numbered "clearings" that are linked in various ways. Most clearings contain an encounter which is played out in the usual way. If you've already visited a clearing it may be empty, or you may have to face something that you previously fled or avoided.

Now, I don't really see the point of this. Sure, you have to actively explore to find each clearing and not just be carried there, but this is no different from ordinary multi-path Forest of Doom-type maps. Sure, when you want to go home you have to backtrack, but most of the visited clearings will be empty anyway, and those that aren't (like the Sword Trees) are annoying more than anything else. Sure, you get the chance to go back and explore unvisited areas, but that just kills replayability. Sure, you can visit places in a different order, but this doesn't make as much of a difference in practice as you might think.

Moreover, you get absolutely no sense at all of being in a swamp, let alone a preposterously dense and deadly one (everyone else seems to get around pretty fine without a magic ring). You just kind of teleport from one clearing to another. At times this gets downright ridiculous: instead of trudging through pathless territory and suddenly and dramatically getting stuck in quicksand, you move one step in the grid into a neat, grassy clearing which contains... quicksand! Noooooo.

Let's just say much would have been gained simply by dropping the numbered clearing idea and converting the grid into a regular, branching flowchart. Not that this would have been quite enough. Many of the encounters are utterly disappointing and just consist of some slice of animal or plant life which you must kill or avoid. Crab Grass is a good joke the first time around, but doesn't really amount to a reason for buying the book. About the only interesting recurring feature, the wizardly Masters, doesn't get enough detail.

Oh yeah, the Masters. See, the book lets you choose between three different quests: one good, one neutral and one evil. The first two basically just have you reach a certain location and return. It may sound easy and actually is. The evil task instead has you seeking out up to five wizards living in the swamp and then acquiring their magical amulets, which in some cases is easier said than done. To frustrate you further, the book actively rewards you for taking the good quest and punishes you for taking the bad quest. I cannot really understand why someone would include a lot of paragraphs in a book which are all about telling you that you're a bad, bad person for reading them! I also wish the book wouldn't control the player's actions depending on which quest you're on.

If the idea behind the three quests was to create replay value, this pretty much failed. Since you'll likely map out the entire swamp in a few games anyway, as instructed by the book, there's no incentive to go back and do the other search quest just to hear what kind words your employer will have for you afterwards. The only real challenge would be to work for Grimslade and count getting all five amulets as a win, while trying to put up with the book's constant complaints and admonitions... oh yes, an unavoidable -3 Skill penalty is _so_ much fun. The book might have been slightly more rewarding if you'd been able to go for all three quests at the same time.

Some miscellaneous notes: This book does a good job of illustrating the hopeless inconsistency in FF when it comes to handling magical weapons, as it's possible to acquire a sword that adds 2 to Skill... at a stage where you cannot have lost any Skill points yet. The art isn't so bad, it just lacks character, like so many of the depicted scenes (oh look, a unicorn wading through cotton), with one or two exceptions such as the Pool Beast which is on the cover anyway. (Speaking of the Pool Beast, before opening the book I remember thinking it looked like an end boss to rival the Bloodbeast... well, it has Skill 8 and that's all there is to it.) Yep, it is possible to fight a Skill 16 creature in the eighth paragraph (most writers would have contented themselves with an instant death). Yep, Grimslade is - if you fight him after visiting the swamp and not before - tougher in single combat than Zagor, Balthus Dire or Malbordus, which seems somehow inappropriate. And sure, the Mistress of Birds is cool - especially the paragraph where you cast the Curse spell on her. ;)

Overall, a waste of a decent title and a good cover beastie. I'd tell you to stay away from this book, but I suspect it won't be among the first 55 or so to be reprinted anyway.

Rating: 3/10


[Demian Katz]

Plot Summary: You've acquired a magical ring which allows you to detect evil and always identify north, so you figure it's time to make a map of the unmappable Scorpion Swamp; of course, the patronage of a mage adds further incentive....

It never ceases to amaze me that the first book in the series not written by Steve Jackson or Ian Livingstone was written by a different person also named Steve Jackson. In any case, I'm glad that the American Steve Jackson did manage to get involved in the series, as he's a good gamebook designer and this is one of my favorite adventures. Unlike most books in the series, the design here is completely non-linear. You can wander through the swamp in whatever order you want, even revisiting old locations. This freedom of movement is made possible by the book's wonderful mapping system -- each area is explicitly numbered and its exits clearly defined, making it both fun and easy to create an unambiguous map of the swamp. Things are further enlivened by the introduction of spellcasting (though in a different form from that found in Citadel of Chaos) to the gameplay.

The challenge level of the book isn't very high, and this has been the source of quite a few complaints over the years. Personally, though, I think the fact that the book provides three distinct quests to finish more than makes up for the ease with which any single quest can be completed. The difficulty is scalable -- while it's possible to play as safely as possible and stick to the parameters of a given mission, there's nothing to stop someone looking for a real challenge from trying to complete the conditions of multiple quests at once or even to map the entire swamp inch by inch. This sort of flexibility is a rare and wonderful thing, especially in this series, and it makes Scorpion Swamp something special.

Although its story and writing aren't as notable as its gameplay, even in this area, I think this book is a respectable entry in the series. The usual Fighting Fantasy minimalism is in place, but there are plenty of odd encounters that stick with the reader (the swamp's Masters, the three mages, and even weird beasts like the crab grass are all worthy of note). As usual, the text is greatly enhanced by excellent artwork, though the original British cover is remarkably poor considering that it was done by the same artist as the far superior interior work. Small complaints aside, it just doesn't get much better than this, at least in the realm of plot-light fantasy adventuring.


[Robert La Vallie]

Scorpion Swamp Stench Stinks

I have all 59 books in the Fighting Fantasy series. I have read them in consecutive order. Currently, I am perusing through book #44 -- Legend of the Shadow Warriors. So, I have read every book from 1 through 44, with the exception of book #8 - Scorpion Swamp.

I cannot complete this book. Not because it is so difficult, but rather because it is so boring. Here is the premise. You can choose to be either a good, neutral, or evil character. Depending on your alignment, you have a particular quest, which can only be completed -- IN THE SWAMPS.  So, you move your tuckus through the various regions of the swamp, solve your quest, and the book ends. That's it.

Now, I would be lenient, considering that when Scorpion Swamp was written, the Fighting Fantasy line of books were in their infancy stage. However, this book was preceded by "Warlock of Firetop Mountain," "Citadel of Chaos," "City of Thieves," and "Deathtrap Dungeon" -- all classics, in my opinion. This book is inexcusable. It should never have been written. And it is boring. You honestly do not care if you sink beneath the quagmire of the absorbent mud of the swamp.

Someday, when I solve every Fighting Fantasy book, I will return to Scorpion Swamp, and trudge through this book, both as a character and a reader. By the way, this is not the same Steve Jackson who penned the classics. After reading this, you'll see why.

Rating: 2.0/10


[Doug Riddell]

In this review, first of all I have to say: it is extremely ironic that the very first FF gamebook written by a sub-author (i.e. someone other than Steve Jackson or Ian Livingstone) was in fact written by another Steve Jackson!

But irony aside, I've always been very impressed with this gamebook and its innovative ideas. Steve II's very original experiments (like the new device of being able to retrace your steps, and thus elimating linearity), paramount map-making and being able choosing different missions at the start are very clever and makes the book very enjoyable. After all, making a map in the swamp is that much more realistic when you're simultaneously having to do the same in real life!

Many adventurers have perished in the swamp because few find their way out of Scorpion Swamp alive. Because compasses simply don't work. There is some kind of magnetism (or magic?) all around that hellhole, not to mention the vast fog covering the place, which shatters any hope of reading the stars.

Without giving away too much I'll explain how one finds one self in the nastiest swamp in northern Khul (and possibly all of Khul). Before the first paragraph you stumble upon a magical device, which allows the user to not only, always know which way north is, but also whether or not to trust strangers. Armed with this new tool you are thus ably equipped with the ability to go where no adventurer has gone before, and off you go! (Despite protests from cautious villagers.)

And pretty soon you will find yourself in a swamp with loathsome beasts, twisting paths, giants, dangerous and not-so-dangerous wizards, goblins, and of course, scorpions. And as I said there are three different missions you may choose, so once you successfully complete one you can always do another.

Steve Jackson jnr really made a hit here and Duncan Smith's great illustrations were certainly help.

And I hereby award it 8 out of 10


[Bryan Spargo]

"Scorpion Swamp" is the first Fighting Fantasy gamebook not written by one of the series' creators. Written by another man named Steve Jackson (hereafter to be named Steve Jackson (2)), "Scorpion Swamp," despite its cool title and interesting premise, just couldn't match the success of previous books in the series.

Loathed by many FF fans, "Scorpion Swamp" really isn't as bad as its reputation. Jackson (2) gives the reader the choice to play the adventure as either a good, neutral, or evil character, and the player's actions during the adventure will differ based on the character's chosen alignment.

This aspect, a staple of Dungeons & Dragons, brought some innovation to the FF series and was intended to promote second and third readings of the book so the reader can play all three alignments.

However, the main problem with "Scorpion Swamp" is that none of the three quests is fully satisfying. The evil quest is the weakest of the three, as the reader will feel unsatisfied with not only the reward, but also working for an evil character to begin with.

The neutral quest suffers because the goal, to map out the swamp for trade purposes, seems to be beneath any experienced FF reader. The best of the three, the good quest, has the reader scouring the swamp to find the berry of an extremely rare plant, and even this quest's reward isn't all that satisfying.

Despite some interesting and memorable encounters in the swamp, and the choice of three different quests, "Scorpion Swamp" is unfortunately wallowed in the mire of Fighting Fantasy mediocrity.

Overall grade: 5.5 (out of 10)


[Andrew Whittingham]

Dare you enter the crisscrossed swamp with all its terrors looming at every turn? The very name brings fear to the heart of many a tough adventurer - unless you're a Fighting Fantasy fan of course! Unfortunately, Scorpion Swamp is possibly the easiest Fighting Fantasy adventure of them all. Many an adventurer will achieve victory on even their first turn - not me of course, but it is only likely to take a few goes at most. Being an adventurer in search of glory and treasure, you see the Swamp as the ideal place to increase your fame. If you return with gold at your side, you're sure to become one of the most famous names in Titan. As you are heading off towards the Swamp, an old woman who conveniently offers you a brass ring, which turns out to always show you which way is north meets you! Suddenly, the previously unmapped territory will be easy to map and incredibly difficult to get lost in. Hold on, wasn't that the point of the adventure? Oh well!

Still, it's not all bad. As you reach the tavern of Fenmarge, the locals are not too impressed with your ideas. They try to put you off going, but when you stick you your guns you end up talking to a guy named Gronar. He suggests that you should get a purpose to your mission. You agree. Why hadn't you thought of that before? He suggests three people who you should go to. Good, neutral and bad characters naturally. If you choose the good guy Selator, your aim is to find one berry of Antherica. You get to keep all the treasure. So naturally, you expect it to be guarded by some evil demon to thwart you in your quest at the last. No such danger, you find the berry towards the latter end of the swamp, and then have to retrace your steps back to the beginning. Not much of a plot if you ask me. The neutral guy is Poomchukker. All this guy wants is you to make a map through the swamp to the town of Willowbend. Again, this is quite easily accomplished and you get no thrill when you have to retrace your steps back to him after you have accomplished your task. Hmm.

The evil wizard is Grimslade. His task is by far the most interesting though I never actually got round to bothering having done it the other two ways. Living in the swamp and a number of wizards. They get their power from their amulets, and Grimslade want you to get three of these, offering 500 gold pieces for each you bring back. There are at least 4 or 5 about, and they are not particularly difficult to come by, but certainly more challenging than the other two plots. Here lies the problem of a Fighting Fantasy book with three solutions. There hasn't been the development of sufficient traps and puzzles along the way that all good Fighting Fantasy novels have, whether they've been written badly or not. This is missing from the story and although it has some good characters about, Grimslade really doesn't count as an evil villain when two ways of finishing the book don't involve and interaction with him.

The next problem is how the mapping works. You are in Clearing X. If you have been here before turn to XXX. That's not what people want. It's easy to map which is good, but it's not what people want to be reading. It flows badly and makes the adventure rather square. So, the book is easy. The mapping's easy. There is altogether little challenge. And there's no bad guy at the end. And it's not well written. So what's good about it? Well, it's good if you like easy and comfortable and don't want any suspense. There are some nice characters involved but the book is let down completely by the plot. It's a shame because there's no doubt it could have been a lot better. Still, how many 'Clearing' books have you seen since? I confess though, I loved the book when I first read it. Surprised? It was only the second book I bought in the series. Looking back the faults are easy to see. Every good book needs the suspense and many places to die for incompetent decision-making. When I also think back to this book, it really wasn't very swampy. I imagine swamps to have marshes everywhere and to be honest, not many clearings. When they appear in other adventures they're always oozy and unpleasant. There wasn't enough in that for my liking.

Still, Scorpion Swamp's good when you want an easy adventure and not to have to think too much. It just lacks too many of the features that make up the classic adventures of which there are so many in the Fighting Fantasy series. But in comparison to other adventures, this can only get a score of

2 out of 10


[David Whyld]

Ask most people what their least favourite of any of the early Fighting Fantasy books are and you'll most likely receive a near-unanimous vote in favour of Scorpion Swamp. I've always thought this more than a little on the unfair side because while Scorpion Swamp is hardly one of FF's shining lights, it really doesn't deserve its amazingly bad reputation. I certainly enjoyed it a lot more than quite a few other gamebooks in the series and its multiple quests give it a decent replay value.

So, why is Scorpion Swamp regarded as being so bad? I'm not sure really. It differs from most FF gamebooks in that there isn't one main quest the player has to undertake to complete the adventure, but a series of three separate quests. Which one you take is pretty much up to you, although good players should probably shy away from helping out the evil Grimslade - as should anyone who wants an easy adventure as helping out the bad guy is the harder of the quests on offer (is this a deliberate attempt to make the player choose the "good" path?) Maybe this idea - instead of the standard "here's a villain, go kill him" type of thing - didn't go down well with the regular FF crowd. Or maybe it's just that Scorpion Swamp tried too hard to be different from the rest of the series and this wasn't what people were after.

There's a lot to like about Scorpion Swamp if you can get past the clumsy opening paragraphs and the general style of writing (which isn't, in all honesty, that remarkable). The swamp of the book's title is where the majority of the adventure takes place and can be mapped out to give you a better idea of just where you're going, although this isn't really an essential thing to do as it's not a particularly large place and you're not likely to need a map to tell you where you are. There are a fair number of locations but not so many that you find yourself becoming lost. More locations - or ones that change from time to time, as well as random encounters - would have made the adventure so much more satisfying and might even have rid "Scorpion Swamp" of the unfair reviews it has suffered over the years. Getting lost is never really going to happen because you start wearing a ring which lets you know which direction is which; without it Scorpion Swamp might have been quite a bit more challenging, and a better gamebook besides.

One thing you'll notice as you adventure around the swamp is that it's not really a very large or overly dangerous place. As such, the dread the inhabitants of the local village feel towards the swamp seems misplaced and I spent quite a bit of the book wondering if there would be some big surprise lurking for me around the next corner to give the swamp its fearsome reputation. Alas not. The majority of the denizens you encounter are not that difficult to defeat and if a solo adventurer can trek from one side of the swamp to the other as I did (even aided by a magic ring) it's strange that the place has built up such a reputation.

Scorpion Swamp is a nice idea that never really works as well as it could have done. If the swamp had been enlarged and scattered with a few random encounters to add variety, it might well have been a fairly decent book but as things stand it just fails to be anything better than a nice idea. It's not the disaster most people who have read the book would claim but then neither is it any real masterpiece either.

5 out of 10