FFW26: Bloodbones

Nicholas Campbell
Shane Garvey (spoilers - plot)
Ldxar1 (spoilers - plot)
Leigh Loveday
Will Turton


[Nicholas Campbell]

After Curse of the Mummy was released in 1995, a 60th gamebook, known as Bloodbones, was scheduled to be published - but it was not to be, and Puffin eventually cancelled the Fighting Fantasy series. In 2001, the book's author, Jonathan Green, revealed information about this missing gamebook appeared on a web sites, but even after Wizard Books had re-released more than 20 Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, there was still no word on Bloodbones. However, our patience was finally rewarded in November 2005 when an announcement appeared on the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks forum; Bloodbones was going to be published!

Well, this was obviously exciting news for any Fighting Fantasy fan, although given Jonathan's reputation for writing extremely difficult, and often downright unfair, gamebooks (Spellbreaker being the most notorious of these), I wondered whether Bloodbones would be more of the same. Had Jonathan learnt from his past mistakes?

Bloodbones is the nickname given to Cinnabar, one of the most feared pirates to sail across Titan. One day, he and his crew, the Pirates of the Black Skull, raided your home village of Clam Beach, which lies halfway between Harabnab and the Port of Crabs in the Old World kingdom of Ruddlestone, and slaughtered most of the men, including your father and two brothers. Ever since then, you vowed that you would slay Cinnabar - and now you have an opportunity to do so. His crew have been seen in the Port of Crabs, so you travel there and visit the Jolly Roger tavern, only to learn from the landlord that Cinnabar is dead. Dejected, you walk out and come across a drunk, who informs you that Cinnabar's body has been recovered and the Pirates of the Black Skull are using voodoo magic to resurrect him and bring him back to life! So maybe you can get your revenge on Bloodbones after all...

OK, the book is based around yet another villain being brought back to life, but it's a long time since pirates have featured in a Fighting Fantasy gamebook. From the very start, when you are confronted by three armed rogues, you know that the Pirates of the Black Skull are out to get you! First of all, you must conduct enquiries around the Port of Crabs and try to locate the pirates' secret base without attracting too much attention. Once you've found it, you stow away on Cinnabar's galleon, the Virago, and explore a remote island and temple, where the ritual to resurrect Cinnabar fully will take place. Can you prevent it from occurring?

As I said earlier, Jonathan Green's gamebooks are well known for being difficult, and Bloodbones is no exception. Despite being able to purchase various items that will increase your Attack Strength, you really need an Initial SKILL of 12 in order to stand a realistic chance of defeating Cinnabar. There are far too many instances where you must Test your Skill and be successful in order to continue playing, and there is one trap where you must roll two dice four times and hope that you don't roll a double once; you've got a less than 50% chance of success, regardless of your Initial scores. However, players with lower Initial SKILL scores will still be able to explore much of the game, as preparation for further attempts, if that's any consolation.

You may therefore think that I don't like Bloodbones all that much, but in fact it's arguably the best of the four gamebooks that Jonathan Green has written so far, and it's definitely a lot better than the last new Fighting Fantasy gamebook to be released, namely the very disappointing (in my opinion) Eye of the Dragon. The use of codewords to monitor your progress is a feature that has been used in previous gamebooks, and it is used again to good effect here - and it's been a long time since a Fighting Fantasy gamebook was based around pirates!

Rating: 7/10


[Shane Garvey]

Ah! A quest for revenge! One of the best reasons to go on an otherwise foolhardy adventure. Bloodbones starts you off in the Port of Crabs, a notorius den of thieves and pirates. Your first mission is to find out where the pirates hideout is. Your enquiries quickly turn the attention of the pirates to you, and you start to discover clues about what is happening and where the pirates may be found.

The Port of Crabs is probably the most frustrating part of the book. It took me almost a dozen tries to finally get out of the city and discover the pirates hideout, and none of the clues you find help you in this; although they point you to things that will help later on in the book, finding the pirates hideout ultimately is about luck. This is annoying, but luckily it is one of the only annoying things about the adventure.

Once you have gotten to this point, the chase is on to stop Bloodbones himself. The adventure leads you across the high seas and an encounter with a ghost ship, then to a remote and mysterious island. A bit of exploration around here leads you to a temple of a dark and sinister voodoo god where another annoying thing happens: In order to get through, you must rely on the luck of the dice. This is something I dislike, strongly: a random dice roll, without relying on stats such as luck or skill, can end the adventure. Luckily, I beat the roll and continued.

An epic battle ensues with a high priest of voodoo and then another journey across the high seas to finally confront the pirate Bloodbones himself. I think I may have been lucky, as the first time I encountered him I managed to slay him, having somehow managed to gather all of the correct special items needed. But, just as I thought I had the book beat, the voodoo god manifests himself and manages to kill me! So close....

And that brings me to something I like about this book (and other gamebooks like it): the fact you can get so close to victory only to see it snatched away from you at the last makes me all the more keen to play it again. I was left with this feeling after (almost) finishing Bloodbones, and that gives the book extra credit in my mind. Rating the book is hard: the part in the Port of Crabs is fairly annoying and makes it hard to want to keep going when you can’t even get out of the city, and then realizing it is blind luck that gets you to the pirates’ hideout. But the adventure after that is a grand, swashbuckling story. So....

RATING: 7 out of 10




This is the "long-lost" Fighting Fantasy, authored by Jonathan Green to be number 60 in the original series but never released until now. As with Green's gamebooks in the original series - Curse of the Mummy, Spellbreaker and Knights of Doom - this is an extremely difficult gamebook, with wrong decisions often leading to death or to debilitating losses, and with success depending on a lot of successful Luck and Skill roles, the possession of a long series of items and codewords, and victory over at least seven high-level enemies, many with special abilities. In short, you're not going to beat it without the patience of a saint or a lot of cheating.

The story is divided into several distinct sections. First the player has to find clues leading to a secret hideout, then actually locate the hideout. After this comes an interlude on the high seas, followed by an extensive section on a jungle island, and finally a dungeon leading up to the final battles. Despite this segmentary structure, the gamebook is not too linear. Too many of the monsters are human or zombie for my tastes, though there are also some interesting jungle creatures such as a spider-scorpion cross, a rainforest sprite and various ape and lizard creatures, as well as a monstrous cat which really does have nine tails.

As a story, the gamebook echoes "Pirates of the Caribbean", though its age (written for original publication in the 1980s) rules out actual influence. An evil pirate chief is raised from the grave by voodoo magic, and bad things will transpire unless he is put back there - along with his demon patron, witch-doctor, first mate, pet monsters and a large supporting cast of pirates and voodoo devotees. A successful player will trace the pirates to their hidden base, only to be abducted and have to escape their ship, before pursuing them to the remote Bone Island to stop their ascension. Once on the island, tasks include obtaining the blessing of the local indigenous people, obtaining a magic weapon and tracking down the source of the villains' power, before hitching a ride on a ghost-ship to confront "Bloodbones" and his patron. It's an elementary plot, but with some nice scenes along the way, and a very visual and engaging portrayal of the various settings.


[Leigh Loveday]

How do you rate something like Bloodbones fairly? The mystical, near-mythical 60th title in the original FF line, the faintest whispers of its existence causing fanboys to drool like St. Bernards for over a decade. At some point along the way, finally - reluctantly - abandoned as a Lost Masterpiece...

...then news arrived that Bloodbones would see the light of day after all, as one of the scant new adventures to be published amidst the glut of Wizard reissues. Of course, by this time we were all jaded adults, each of us sunk in our own little world of office politics and Flickr updates and CSI: Miami marathons and organic tomatoes and righteous anger at escalating train fares. Roused, we harboured doubts. Not least because Eye of the Dragon hadn't set the best precedent for 'new' FF, and as a result we'd pretty much ignored it. So was exhuming Bloodbones really the right thing to do?

It is, at least, hard to deny the rush of nostalgia that any lapsed FF fan would feel upon cracking open a previously unread story; a powerful tool in itself. There's the old faithful Adventure Sheet, the barely adjusted rules, the familiar stats and enemy encounter text - but precious little to make the experience feel new and relevant, and sad to say, these old staples died off for a reason. So for better or worse, Bloodbones must stand or fall on the merits of what it does within the time-honoured but slightly yellow and damp-smelling constraints of Fighting Fantasy circa the early '90s.

First impressions, at least, are promising. You can't go wrong with a big old zombie pirate carrying a skull, even if it's a bit cynical in the O HAI LOOKIT CAPTAN BARBOSSA cool-at-the-time Pirates of the Caribbean influence. But it's artfully done, the restrained colours and uncluttered subject matter working well together. Pirates then. Specifics?

Cinnabar has risen from the grave! He's some kind of rascally pirate lord, and your designated Big Bad for this trip. So who's Bloodbones? Ah, that's Cinnabar as well. What? Yes.

In a nutshell you're the son of someone murdered by Cinnabar, and you've spent ages meandering around the place looking for him, until you found out that he was dead, at which point, presumably, you stopped. But then you found out that he was alive again so you could stop drinking gin with crusty sailors and get on with the business of trying to smash up his face. Yay!

Giving precise details of your age, upbringing and motivation breaks with the FF tradition of minimal backstory to some extent, but then again it's not necessarily a bad thing to deviate from the hoary old "YOU are a seasoned hero" malarkey. And you are still a seasoned hero anyway so it shouldn't be too disorientating.

Here we go. This is usually the first black mark where Jonathan Green is concerned, and after all this time the lack of improvement is both obvious from the outset and decidedly unwelcome. There's a six-page background story to wade through before you can even begin making choices and rolling dice, and right off the starting blocks flat cliché follows dull description follows mangled sentence... gamebooks have never traditionally been the breeding ground of Booker Prize winners, but that doesn't mean it'll go unnoticed if you don't even try, and when the writing struggles to even reach a workmanlike level it kills a lot of the magic.

It's interesting to note that the accompanying map is labelled 1996, so if that means the book itself was written at the same time then it's a little more understandable. I wouldn't go so far as to say forgivable, because there's no reason why it couldn't have been given the old spit and polish for release in 2006. It's not as if the Greener has been short of writing experience in recent years.

The editing job is equally flaccid, with spellcheck fubars like "bad of the neck" and "rigour mortis" accompanying too many schoolboy punctuation incidents to count. And while this one's not strictly a mistake, at one point I read "decomposing travesties" as "decomposing transvestites" and that made me laugh until I realised how much more entertaining it would have been if that were the case.

One thing that Green has learned is the benefit of splitting his adventure into separate stages. He manages to maintain some interest here by shifting away from the initial Port of Crabs explorathon before it outstays its welcome, jigging with clumsy peg-legged determination into a seaborne caper before climaxing with a big old naked runaround on an island. Not really naked though. Although there is one immodest old man. The diversity is welcome; I don't think I could have put up with the whole thing if it was content to just squat idly in a single location like Sloth from The Goonies.

A couple of other not-so-good holdovers from the Olden Days of Green: being forced into harmful actions when nothing in the initial choice suggests it (such as the sudden tantrum that results in you attacking a seer when all you wanted to do was talk), and the proliferation of rubbish backwards codewords like 'Etarip', 'Noogal' and 'Dnalsi'. Surely he could have come up with something a bit more imaginative and, well, less lame-sounding than that. Here's one: each codeword is one of the fighters from Marvel vs. Capcom 2. Or each codeword is an anagram of an obscure regional euphemism for the testicles. The possibilities are endless, sort of.

Fact: all Tony Hough's people either look like they've been captured in the split-second before being punched in the face, or like they've accidentally been set in the wrong aspect ratio. Or both. Some of his non-human depictions such as the Treasure Golem and Masked Zombies come off well enough, so it's not as if he's a hack, but staying focused on the fantastic rather than the mundane does seem to produce best results.

He definitely should have avoided trying to depict the climactic confrontation with Cinnabar, because he ended up making your cruel nemesis look like a sweaty politician gurning helplessly at the paparazzi who've cornered him in a red light district. And while we're at it, his "lithe, beautiful" Queen Zyteea could easily be mistaken for a hungover drag queen escaping from hospital after badly botched knee surgery.

See if you can work out what all these enemy encounters have in common: Giant Octopus, Giant Mantis, Giant Mosquito, Giant Crab, Giant Chameleon, Giant Pitcher-Plant. Despite the varied locales, imagination is in pretty short supply here. The same goes for the overarching piracy theme, which is mined for just about every longstanding cliché with precious little of its own to contribute.

Combat itself is rife with excessive Attack Strength penalties and fixed Attack Round numbers before insta-death. The worst offender is, naturally, the final showdown. Without giving too much away, you're likely to face an unbroken string of three or four difficult fights, ramping up again and again just as you think you can't realistically be expected to survive any further. At one point your opponent is tagged as "all-powerful" and success described as "overcoming all the odds", with very little exaggeration.

Of the aspects that stand out for more palatable reasons, the non-linear jungle trek deserves a mention for its wide range of random encounters, helping repeat playthroughs even if the majority of them serve no real purpose beyond OCD sightseeing. And some of the early battles are lifted by finding out the names of Cinnabar's crew in advance, then having the opportunity to bump into them around the Port of Crabs as you go about your cheery business. Fisticuffs and murderising will of course ensue, but having that extra degree of recognition and realisation as to why they're out to get you adds a little something to the proceedings.

A scattering of other enemies are also fleshed out with fragments of backstory, such as the Nine-Tails which is specially imported following a previous excursion (without proper quarantine procedures and paperwork, these pirates being dyed-in-the-wool troublemakers) to act as Cinnabar's guard dog. Cat. Thing. The extra detail isn't going to tip it over into classic status, but it's nice to see some consideration behind these things when it's usually just "big freaky mutant in this room for some reason, Skill, Stamina, off you go".

The only thing added to the usual stats is the almost-as-common Time counter, which does seem a little more forgiving here than in previous FF obstacle courses. And even this is set aside after the first major checkpoint, so there's little chance of it overshadowing the whole story. Some people might enjoy the boosted sense of urgency imposed by a time limit; to me it feels more like the dark and sinister workplace concept of 'forced fun'.

And here comes the standard one-hit kill. Bloodbones is as punishingly, facepalmingly difficult as anything Jonathan Green has done before. I really don't understand the mindset behind this. Of course it needs to be challenging, so that you don't waltz through it on the first go and forfeit any palpable sense of gratification. But it shouldn't take 100 bloody attempts either, especially if 98 of them fail through bad luck and sheer trial and error.

If there aren't quite as many random and crippling enemy scraps as in, say, Curse of the Mummy, which threatened to turn the gamebook experience into a chore of Stephen Thraves proportions, the extra breathing space is filled by an onslaught of Skill/Stamina/Luck tests more frequent and gruelling than ever; as always, many of these straightforward rolls and brawls could have been subverted into something more interesting given a bit of lateral thought. To be honest it's amazing that your character can even get out of bed in the morning without being assaulted by a load of zombies then needing a successful Skill roll to avoid falling from a window into a wheelbarrow full of nails and acid.

It's also far too easy to suddenly lose precious Skill points for reasons as inane as, ooh, being a bit scared of a ghost. Harsh enough in itself, even more so when the surrounding adventure is one of those stat-obsessed affairs where your future can be measured in a handful of paragraphs if you're not packing a double-digit Skill score alongside the obligatory sorcerous uberweapon. It makes you wonder if some of these authors even attempt their own objective playtests.

Bloodbones is the kind of book that seems better in the anticipation, or when you can only remember vague, scattered snippets of it. The actual experience of reading/playing the thing doesn't necessarily bring with it a whole lot of enjoyment. Yes, it's satisfying on a very basic level to still have new releases in the FF range so long after its heyday, but that in itself isn't enough and the fact that it's treated as such is a wee bit patronising. Above all, the whole thing feels like a relic - from the unpolished writing to the archaic copyright and authorship claims by Steve and Ian, claims which seem to be preventing other, better books and authors from being included in the relaunched series.

In spite of how it may seem, I don't get a great amount of satisfaction from bashing the Green. But his output does continue to embrace too many of the gamebook elements I find lazy and tiresome, from the first draft standard of writing to the harsh, fun-swallowing toughness. I'd be more than happy if, completely out of the blue, he cracked out a gamebook to rival some of the genre's best... but rather than push the boundaries he seems more than happy to trundle along in his own little mediocre groove, which is a particular shame considering a large stake in FF's future is trundling along there with him.


[Will Turton]


As a concept, Fighting Fantasy commanded a huge following right up until the mid 1990s. Before the advent of the computer, the books offered a fantasy environment in which the reader took part in an 'adventure', (and unlike video games) one that required proper use of the imagination. Sadly, with the decline in sales that followed a mass transition to computer games, Bloodbones (the original #60 in the series) was canned.

So, at last, Bloodbones has arrived, in a slightly different form and running to 400 paragraphs, making for a longer and more in-depth read. The writer, Jonathon Green, is well known to the community and his previous works have always been well received. The setting, the state of Ruddlestone, has consistently been Green's workshop, providing the background which he then filled with colour and meaning.

The adventure itself is a story of vengeance, a quest in pursuit of the accursed pirate Cinnabar, taking in heady doses of voodoo and black magic along the way. On many occasions, failing to choose a certain item or overhear an important conversation can lead to an abrupt and often gruesome end. Should one, however, succeed in playing through the adventure successfully, they will be rewarded with numerous engaging encounters, witnessing the development of locations, observing the plot thicken over time and feeling proud for having cheated death once more.

The book, although understandably linear in places, does possess replay value, as much can be missed on the first attempt, which is likely to be unsuccessful anyway. Overall, it represents a highly likeable effort by Jonathon Green (whose maps are once again superb), and although perhaps not the best of the books (others may beg to differ!), for ex and prospective acolytes of Fighting Fantasy, it is certainly worth purchasing.




Bloodbones was originally written as number 60 in the first fighting fantasy series. It was intended to be shorter, only 300 references, and so more accessible to younger readers. However, it was never published, although some online stores did advertise it for sale.

Bloodbones, therefore, has become a bit of a legend in fighting fantasy circles. Here it is finally released, after being extended to 400 references like most of the other books.

Is it worth the wait? Definitely. The story is good, the plot moves along at a fast pace and the atmosphere created (the voodoo magic element and so on) is excellent. Tony Hough's illustrations are a treat, as always. The balance of puzzles, traps, investigation and battles is about right. If you assume that you win all your fights rather than playing them out, the difficulty level is spot on as well, with several areas to explore and investigate.

However, I have not given the book 5 stars because of the horrendous difficulty of the fights. With some books (Citadel of chaos, for example) there is no problem completing the adventure with the minimum scores. With others (Temple of Terror) it is nigh on impossible because of the toughness of the opponents. This somewhat spoils Bloodbones also, as the last four fights are all with opponents with high skill and stamina scores and cannot be avoided.

That said though, the adventure is exciting and the book well worth getting, if only for the fact that it is a "new" adventure